Streltsy were the units of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n guardsmen in the 16th - early 18th centuries, armed with firearms. They are also collectively known as Marksman Troops (Стрелецкое Войско).

Origins and organization

The first streltsy units were created by Ivan the Terrible sometime between 1545 and 1550 and armed with arquebuses. They first saw combat at the Siege of Kazan in 1552. Initially, the streltsy were recruit
Army recruit
Recruit or army recruit is a term often colloquially used to refer to the lowest military rank in various armed services. It usually implies that the soldier so labeled has not yet completed basic training....

ed from among the free tradespeople
This article is about the skilled manual worker meaning of the term; for other uses see Tradesperson .A tradesman is a skilled manual worker in a particular trade or craft. Economically and socially, a tradesman's status is considered between a laborer and a professional, with a high degree of both...

 and from the rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

 population. Subsequently, military service
Military service
Military service, in its simplest sense, is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job or as a result of an involuntary draft . Some nations require a specific amount of military service from every citizen...

 in this unit became lifelong and hereditary. Thus, while initially an elite force in the sixteenth century, their effectiveness was reduced by poor training and lack of volunteerism in recruiting.

Streltsy were subdivided into viborniye (выборные), or electives (later – of Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

) and gorodskiye (городские), or municipal (in different Russian cities).
  • The Streltsy of Moscow guarded the Kremlin, performed general guard-duty, and participated in military operation
    Military operation
    Military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state's favor. Operations may be of combat or non-combat types, and are referred to by a code name for the purpose...

    s. They also carried out general police and fire-brigade functions in Moscow. Grigory Kotoshikhin
    Grigory Kotoshikhin
    Grigory Karpovich Kotoshikhin was a Russian diplomat, podyachy of the Posolsky Prikaz, and writer....

    , a Russian diplomat who had spied for and then defected to Sweden in the 1660s, reported that they used axes and buckets and copper pumps as well as hooks to pull down adjacent buildings so that fires would not spread, but Adam Olearius, a Westerner who traveled to Russia in the seventeenth century, noted that they never used water.
  • The Municipal Streltsy performed garrison
    Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

     and border
    Borders define geographic boundaries of political entities or legal jurisdictions, such as governments, sovereign states, federated states and other subnational entities. Some borders—such as a state's internal administrative borders, or inter-state borders within the Schengen Area—are open and...

     duty and carried out orders of the local administration
    Local government
    Local government refers collectively to administrative authorities over areas that are smaller than a state.The term is used to contrast with offices at nation-state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or federal government...


Streltsy came under the control of the Streltsy Department
Streltsy Department
Streltsy Department or Streletsky Prikaz was one of the main governmental bodies in Russia in 16th and 17th centuries....

 (Стрелецкий приказ, or Streletsky prikaz), however, in times of war they came under their superiors. The Municipal Streltsy were also under the jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

 of the local voevodes.

The biggest military administrative unit of the streltsy forces was pribor (прибор), that would later be renamed into prikaz and in 1681 – into regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 (полк, or polk). Commander
Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...

s of the Streltsy unit (стрелецкие головы, or streletskiye golovy) and colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

s in charge of regiments were chiefs of prikazi. They had to be nobles and appointed by the government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...


The regiments (polki) were subdivided into sotni (сотни, or hundreds) and desyatki (десятки, or tens). They could be mounted (стремянные, or stremyanniye; стремя (stremya) in Russian means “stirrup
A stirrup is a light frame or ring that holds the foot of a rider, attached to the saddle by a strap, often called a stirrup leather. Stirrups are usually paired and are used to aid in mounting and as a support while using a riding animal...

”) and unmounted (пешие, or peshiye; пеший (peshiy) means "foot soldier
Foot Soldier
The term foot soldier may refer to:* A generic term for members of the infantry* Characters in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series belonging to the Foot Clan* The Foot Soldiers, a comic book originally published by Dark Horse Comics...


Uniforms and equipment

Streltsy had identical uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

s (usually red, blue or green coats with yellow boots), training and weapons (arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

es, musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s, poleaxes, bardiche
A bardiche or berdiche is a type of glaive polearm known in the 16th and 17th centuries in Eastern Europe and Russia. Ultimately a descendant of the medieval sparth , the bardiche proper appears after 1500, but there are numerous medieval manuscripts that depict very similar weapons beginning ca....

s (used to steady their gun while firing), sabers, and sometimes pike
Pike (weapon)
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the...


Service conditions

The Muscovite government was chronically short of cash and so did not often pay the streltsy well. While "entitled" to something like four rubles a year in the 1550s, they were often allowed to farm or trade in order to supplement their incomes. This reduced their combat effectiveness and often their desire to go on campaigns (since a season on campaign meant loss of income). Streltsy lived in their own neighborhoods or districts settlement
A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while...

s and received money and bread from the State Treasury
A treasury is either*A government department related to finance and taxation.*A place where currency or precious items is/are kept....

. In certain locations, Streltsy were granted strips of land instead of money. The Streltsy settlement in Moscow was located near where the main campus of Moscow State University now stands.

Military tactics

Military commanders deployed the streltsy in static formations, often against set formations or fortifications. They often fired from a platform and employed a mobile wooden "fortification" known in Russian at a "gulyai gorod" (literally a "walking fort"). They reportedly fired in volley or caracole
The caracole or caracol is a turning manoeuvre on horseback in dressage and, previously, in military tactics.- Dressage caracole :...

 fashion; the first line firing and then stepping back to reload while the second line stepped forward to fire.


At the end of the 16th century, there were 20,000-25,000 streltsy; in 1681, there were 55,000, including 22,500 in Moscow alone. Streltsy’s engagement in handicraft
Handicraft, more precisely expressed as artisanic handicraft, sometimes also called artisanry, is a type of work where useful and decorative devices are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. It is a traditional main sector of craft. Usually the term is applied to traditional means...

s and trade led to a significant proprietary inequality
Economic inequality
Economic inequality comprises all disparities in the distribution of economic assets and income. The term typically refers to inequality among individuals and groups within a society, but can also refer to inequality among countries. The issue of economic inequality is related to the ideas of...

 among them and their blending with tradepeople. Even though Streltsy demonstrated their fighting efficiency on several occasions, such as the siege of Kazan in 1552, the war with Livonia
Livonia is a historic region along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. It was once the land of the Finnic Livonians inhabiting the principal ancient Livonian County Metsepole with its center at Turaida...

, the Polish-Swedish invasion in the early 17th century and military operations in Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 and Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

, in the second half of the 17th century Streltsy started to display their backwardness compared to the regular soldier or reiter
Reiters were a type of cavalry, which appeared in the armies of Western Europe in the 16th century in place of the outmoded lance-armed knights, at the same time that cuirassiers and dragoons began to attain typological distinction from other kinds of cavalry...

 regiments (see Regiments of the new type). Military service hardships, frequent salary delays, abuse on the part of local administration and commanders led to regular Streltsy's (especially the poorest ones) participation in anti-serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

 uprisings in the 17th and early 18th centuries, such as the peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

 wars in the beginning of the 17th century and in 1670-1671 (leader – Stepan Razin), urban
Urban area
An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.Urban areas are created and further...

 uprisings (Moscow Uprising of 1682
Moscow Uprising of 1682
Moscow Uprising of 1682, also known as Streltsy Uprising of 1682 , was an uprising of the Moscow Streltsy regiments which resulted in supreme power being devolved on Sophia Alekseyevna...

, Streltsy Uprising
Streltsy Uprising
The Streltsy Uprising of 1698 was an uprising of the Moscow Streltsy regiments. Some Russian historians believe that the Streltsy uprising was a reactionary rebellion against progressive innovations of Peter the Great...

 of 1698, Astrakhan Uprising of 1705-1706).

At the same time, those streltsy who had been on top of the hierarchy
A hierarchy is an arrangement of items in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another...

 enjoyed their social status
Social status
In sociology or anthropology, social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society . It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, for example son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc....

 and, therefore, tried to hold back the regular streltsy forces and keep them on the government’s side. In the late 17th century, the streltsy of Moscow began to actively participate in a struggle for power between different government groups, supporting the dissident
A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. When dissidents unite for a common cause they often effect a dissident movement....

s and showing hostility towards any foreign innovation
Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society...


The streltsy became something of a "praetorian element" in Muscovite politics in the late seventeenth century. In 1682 they attempted to prevent Peter the Great from coming to the throne in favor of his half-brother, Ivan.


After the fall of Sophia Alekseyevna
Sophia Alekseyevna
Sophia Alekseyevna was a regent of Russian Tsardom who allied herself with a singularly capable courtier and politician, Prince Vasily Galitzine, to install herself as a regent during the minority of her brothers, Peter the Great and Ivan V...

 in 1689, the government of Peter the Great
Peter I of Russia
Peter the Great, Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov Dates indicated by the letters "O.S." are Old Style. All other dates in this article are New Style. ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his half-brother, Ivan V...

 engaged in a process of gradual limitation of the streltsy’s military and political influence. Eight Moscow regiments were removed from the city and transferred to Belgorod
-Twin towns/sister cities:Belgorod is twinned with: Wakefield, England, United Kingdom Herne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia Opole, Poland Vyshhorod, Ukraine Kharkiv, Ukraine-External links:...

, Sevsk
Sevsk is a town in Sevsky District of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located on the Sev River , away from Bryansk. Population: -History:...

, and Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....


In spite of these measures, the streltsy revolted yet again while Peter was on his Great Embassy in Europe. Although the revolt was put down by the Scottish general Patrick Gordon
Patrick Gordon
Patrick Leopold Gordon was general of the Imperial Russian army, of Scottish origin. He was descended from a Scottish family of Aberdeenshire, holders of the small estate of Auchleuchries, the family were connected with the house of Haddo.- Life :He was raised and remained a lifelong Catholic, at...

 (he had entered Russian service under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in 1661) even before the Tsar's return to Russia, Peter nonetheless cut short his embassy and returned to finally crush the streltsy with savage reprisals, including public executions and torture. Tortures included roasting the bare back, tearing flesh with iron hooks, and crushing feet in wooden presses called butuks; executions included being broken by the wheel and being buried alive. Many of the bodies were hung around the monastery where Princess Sophia and Eudoxia were confined for aiding the rebellion.

The corps was technically abolished in 1689; however, after having suffered a defeat at Narva
Battle of Narva (1700)
The Battle of Narva on 19 November 1700 was an early battle in the Great Northern War. A Swedish relief army under Charles XII of Sweden defeated a Russian siege force three times its size. Before, Charles XII had forced Denmark-Norway to sign the Treaty of Travendal...

 in 1700, the government stopped their disbandment. The most efficient streltsy regiments took part in the most important military operations of the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

 and in Peter’s Prut Campaign of 1711. Gradually, streltsy were incorporated into the regular army. At the same time, they started to disband the Municipal Streltsy.

Liquidation of most streltsy units was finally finished in the 1720s; however, the Municipal Streltsy were kept in some cities until the late 18th century.

The Preobrazhensky
Preobrazhensky regiment
The Preobrazhensky Regiment was one of the oldest and elite regiments of the Russian army. Along with the Semenovsky regiment also served as a gendarmie unit for the state Secret Chancellery in the 18th century, headed by the Prince Fyodor Romodanovsky.It was formed by Peter the Great in the late...

 and Izmailovsky regiments of Imperial Guards
Russian Imperial Guard
The Russian Imperial Guard, officially known as the Leib Guard were military units serving as personal guards of the Emperor of Russia. Peter the Great founded the first such units following the Prussian practice in the 1690s, to replace the politically-motivated Streltsy.- Organization :The final...

replaced the streltsy as the tsar's bodyguards.
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