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Streltsy: 16th - 18th century

The streltsy, meaning 'musketeers', begin in the 16th century as part of the Russian army. By the mid-17th century they are a hereditary military caste with special responsibilities in Moscow, policing the city and providing the tsar's bodyguard. Like any semi-independent military force (such as the janissaries and mamelukes), they become both unruly and political.

During the late 17th century they side on three occasions against the Naryshkin, the maternal family of Peter the Great. In 1682 the streltsy prevail, killing many of the Naryshkin. In 1689 and again in 1698 their plots are foiled, with a terrible vengeance exacted by the tsar on the second occasion.


To break the power of the streltsy Peter the Great supervises in person the torture of many of their number to extract information about those who are responsible. He then has some 800 of them put to death by methods of ancient barbarity, either broken on the wheel or impaled.

The streltsy remain in existence during the early years of the Northern War, but they are finally disbanded in 1713.


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