Serfdom VI: Cossacks of the Wild Steppe (feat. Nikolai Gogol) – Russian History

Run away to join the Cossacks, young serf! Who were these cowboy-like steppe peoples? And what was their obsession with disdain for pants?! Anna digs into Russian author Nikolai Gogol for a unique view of these riders of the wild wastes.

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Co-hosts: Nick and Anna

Time/place: Russia c.1834 CE

Dead Idea: Russian serfdom

A Map of Russia, 1834 CE, by Adam McKithern


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Glossary of Russian Words and Spellings

  • aul (ah-OOL) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • bárshchina (BAHR-shchee-nah) – dues paid in labor to landlord; corvée
  • brat na braty (BRAT na BRA-tee) – the “brother for brother” system in which half the adult laborers of a commune worked the landlord’s fields on any given day.
  • burmistr (BOOR-mee-stur) – bailiff, manager of an estate
  • chernaia (CHUR-nai-yuh) – chimney-less hut
  • desiatina (DEE-syah-tee-nah) – a unit of area equal to 2.7 acres
  • izbá (eez-BAH) – hut
  • kholop (hah-LOHP) – slave
  • krepostnoi (kray-PAHST-noy) – serf
  • mir (MEER) – peasant commune; also means “world”, “peace”
  • obrók (ahb-ROHK) – dues paid in kind or money to landlord
  • oprichnina (ah-PREECH-nee-nah) – secret police of Ivan the Terrible
  • poméshchik (pah-MYEE-shuhk) – servitor landlord
  • Pomórskaia (POH-mohr-skai-yuh)– Old Belief, referring to liturgical forms retained from before the reforms of 1652-1658
  • saklya (SACK-lee-yuh) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • sótskii (SOHT-skee) – peasant/serf assigned to keep order on an estate; lit. “hundredth” and in charge of 100 households
  • stárosta (STAH-us-tuh) – village elder
  • tiaglo (tee-ah-GLUH) – husband-wife work team
  • upravitel (oop-rah-VEE-tul) – steward, bailiff
  • versta (vyeer-STAH) – a unit of distance equal to 0.663 miles or 1.067 km

Main Sources

Avakkum. (1950/2003). “The Life of Archpriest Avakkum.” In: Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Buggle, J. C., and Nafziger, S. (2015). “Long-Run Consequences of Labor Coercion: Evidence from Russian Serfdom.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Domar, E. (1970). “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis.” The Journal of Economic History, 30(1): 18-32. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Gogol, N. V. (1834). Taras Bulba and Other Tales. Cournos, J, ed. Retrieved Mar 16, 2017, from:

Gorshkov, B. B. (2005). A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii 1800-1868. New York: Central European University Press.

Hoch, S. L. (1986). Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, A Village in Tambov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kolchin, P. (1987). Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Lincoln, W. (1994). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.

MacKay, J. (2009). Four Russian Serf Narratives. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Markevich, A., and Zhuravskaya, E. (2016). “The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Moley, H. (1866). Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs. London: Chapman and Hall.

Nafziger, S. (2013). “Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Inequality: New Evidence.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S. (2011). “Serfdom, Emancipation, and Economic Development in Tsarist Russia.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S., and Lindert, P. (2013). “Russian Inequality on the Eve of Revolution.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Rosa, J. (2011). “The Causes of Serfdom: Domar’s Puzzle Revisited.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Semyenov, Y. (1944). The Conquest of Siberia. Dickes, E. W., Ed. London: G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd.

Tolstoy, L. (1887). A Russian Proprietor and Other Stories. Dole, N. H., Trans. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.

Tolstoy, L. (1852). The Cossacks. Maude, L., & Maude, A., Trans. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Wirtschafter, E. K. (2008). Russia’s Age of Serfdom 1649-1861. Maldon, MA: Blackwell.

Maps, pics, references, and more at Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff. Map by Adam McKithern.

4 thoughts on “Serfdom VI: Cossacks of the Wild Steppe (feat. Nikolai Gogol) – Russian History

  1. Wrong Podcast uploaded. I was listening to Dead Ideas on Podbean, when I got to the Cossacks podcast I noticed that it wasn’t about the Cossacks, but in fact was the Star Wars/Serfdom mash up episode instead. I then came here to see if I could listen to the Cossacks podcast, but it’s the same thing here.

      1. Oh, the main man himself! Thank you for being so prompt, I look forward to listening to it.

        P.S Your History of Sex is a wonderful podcast, keep up the excellent work Mr. Newberg!

        1. Thanks for pointing that out! Issue is fixed. Note you may have to restart your browser. On your phone, you may have to delete the episode download and re-download it.

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