Edited (2/4/19): Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ was the photographer who took the featured image above. Prokudin-Gorskiĭ is the man on the far right with the hunting rifle and a cigarette. To his right, two northern Caucasus men with traditional high fur hats. The man on the farthest left has a noticeable shoulder pad of military status. This man in black is most likely a Cossack. These men were the monarchist of the late Imperial Russia; conservative and rural. They were loyal to the czar for their given heightened status and decentralization of their home regions in the Pontic Steppes.
Cossacks are a Slavic ethnic group that are native to certain parts around southern Russia, most notably around the Black Sea. Originally, they lived a nomadic, decentralized, and strongly independent way of life. They were fierce raiders and had their own unique culture compared to the Russians. However, they were eventually absorbed into Imperial Russia. By the Napoleonic wars, they had a special privileged relationship with the empire. These privileges included: continued autonomy from St. Petersburg, given the ethnic “green light”, and tax exemptions. In return for their status, they provided the Imperial Russian Army with their highly trained cavalry, for they are known across the empire for their skilled and hardy horsemen. They were employed into the southern frontier of the Russian borders, stationed in towns to protect from Tartar incursions in the Pontic Steppe and Ukraine.
However, by the turn of the 20th century, most European cavalry (even the Russians) had weapons and their training have gotten significantly better, compared to the Cossacks who still have the same tactics and training for the last two centuries. Because of this, the army delegated the Cossacks to a more ceremonial, policing, and crowd control role. This was shown in the 1905 revolution, when they broke up the demonstrations during Bloody Sunday in St. Petersburg. They were fit for this job for they are staunch loyalist to the czar and had no familial, cultural, nor emotional ties to the cities of Russia. This lack of connection made them better at crowd control than the normal soldier, however they were more likely to use force against civilians, which burnished to their reputation of being uniquely dangerous foes.
- Encyclopedia of Russian history, edited by Jame Millar
- Located in the Newman Library, 3rd floor, DK14 .E53 2004
- The Russian Rulers History Podcast: Slap Shot Episode – The Cossacks (based off the book above)
- Russia: A History by Gregory L. Freeze, pg 47 & 51.