There has been a considerable amount of discussion regarding the origin on the term "Cossack." The Cossacks in Russia are generally thought of in a romantic fashion as people who lead a free and careless life, while being ferocious fighters. In this image of the Cossacks, there are always horses and grasslands, of course.
There has been a considerable amount of discussion on the origin of the term "Cossack" and opposing theories have been pushed forward. But it can be fairly accurately stated that the Cossacks were a mixture of Slavs and nomads (Tartars) who lived in South Russia and, refusing to submit to any official government, migrated to the steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas. Here they survived on hunting, fishing, and robbing, whichever was more lucrative at any given time.
Later on, members of the Russian nobility who needed mercenary troops began hiring these Cossacks who were all too eager to get paid for fighting. The Cossack cavalry was famous for their bravery and ferocious fighting skills. Their name derived from the Turkic word "quzzaq" which simply means "freeman." The term might have been applied to these wandering horsemen because of the similarity of their equipment to that of the Central Asian nomadic people.
However, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, writing about the ninth century mentions tribes living near the Don and Caucasus who are called Cozaqui or Cosoqui. Similarly, the Russian historical chronicles retell the story of Prince Mstislaw of Tmutarakan conquering the Cossacks in 1021. There is little information, however, who these Cossacks were.
After this, the Cossacks disappear from historical records, only to resurface during the reign of Jagellon, the king of Lithuania and Poland in the late fourteenth century. At this time there were three kinds of Cossacks: Polish, Lithuanian, and Russian.
The Cossacks played an important role in the history of these three countries as the people actually did the fighting, without being involved in the war politically. Russian expeditions to Siberia and Central Asia, military or scientific, also employed Cossacks as an escort force.
During the Communist era, the Cossacks were gradually exterminated. Many of them migrated to the West where they struggle to uphold their ethnic identity, as much as it is possible without many of the elements that originally defined these people.
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