Russia : the Southern Frontier :
Potemkin's Villages

Pugachev's Rebellion of 1773-1774

A.) The Pre-History of the Rebellion

EMILIAN IVANOVICH PUGACHEV was a Don Cossack; he had fought in several wars. In the autumn of 1773 he lead the Ural Cossacks in a revolt which soon was to spread into the Volga basin. He later claimed to be Peter III., the deceased husband of Catherine the Great.
At that time, Russia was at war with the Ottoman Empire, the Russian troops thus had been moved from the area where the rebellion broke out; they were concentrated on the front to the Ottoman Empire. In Russia there was widespread dissatisfaction.

B.) The Military Course of Events

Pugachev capitalized on political dissatisfaction by passing a number of reforms - he had established a kind of alternative government, with chancelery. Among those reforms were the liberation of the serfs, the abolition of taxation and military service, he promised to abolish the landlords. In accordance to tradition, Pugachev claimed to be Catherine's murdered husband Peter III.
Pugachev's troops consisted of cossacks disgruntled about the abolition of their organization, peasants angry about the worsening of their condition, of ethnic minorities (Bashkirs etc.) upset about the infringement on their lands by the Russians, of Old Believers rejecting the state interference in church affairs. Yet the frorce lacked experienced military leaders and acted rather undisciplined.
Early in the rising the Russian administration, the political centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, seemed almost paralyzed, unable to react on the rebellion. Yet Pugachev took Kazan, but failed to attack the centers. In 1774 an army moved against him, defeated Pugachev's forces repeatedly. Pugachev was betrayed by his own men.

C.) The Legacy

Pugachev was transported to Moscow in a cage, and brutally executed; none of the reforms he implemented were lasting. Catherine, who saw herself as an enlightened monarch, now passed legislation strengthening central control over regional administration and legislation strengthening the institution of serfdom.

Catherine and Pugachev, by G. Rempel
Biography of Emilian Ivanovich Pugachev, from infoplease
DOCUMENTS Painting : Vassily Perov : Pugachev's Judgment (1875), from Olga's Gallery
Novel : Alexander Pushkin, The Captain's Daughter (1835), plays at the time of the Pugachev Rebellion
Documents on the Pugachev Rebellion, from Documents in Russian History
REFERENCE Melvin K. Wren, The Course of Russian History, Prospect Heights 1994 : Pugachev's Rising, pp.191-192

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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