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Yermak's Conquest of Siberia, a painting by Vasily Surikov

Laminar armour from hardened leather enforced by wood and bones worn by native Siberians and Eskimo

Lamellar armour worn by native Siberians and Eskimo

The Russian conquest of Siberia took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Siberian Khanate had become a loose political structure of vassalages which were becoming undermined by the activities of Russian explorers who, though outnumbered, pressured the various family-based tribes into changing their loyalties and establishing distant forts from which they conducted raids. To counter this, Küçüm Khan attempted to centralize his rule by imposing Islam on his subjects and reforming his tax collecting apparatus.

Conquest of the Khanate of Sibir

The Russian conquest of Siberia began in July 1580 when some 540 Cossacks under Yermak Timofeyevich invaded the territory of the Voguls, subjects to Küçüm, the Khan of Siberia. They were accompanied by 300 Lithuanian and German slave laborers, whom the Stroganovs had purchased from the Tsar. Throughout 1581 this force traversed the territory known as Yugra and subdued Vogul and Ostyak towns. At this time they also captured a tax collector of Küçüm. Following a series of Tatar raids in retaliation against the Russian advance Yermak's forces prepared for a campaign to take Qashliq, the Siberian capital. The force embarked in May 1582. After a three-day battle on the banks of the river Irtysh, Yermak was victorious against a combined force of Küçüm Khan and six allied Tatar princes. On 29 June the Cossack forces were attacked by the Tatars but again repelled them. Throughout September 1582 the Khan gathered his forces for a defence of Qashliq. A horde of Siberian Tatars, Voguls and Ostyaks massed at Mount Chyuvash to defend against invading Cossacks. On 1 October a Cossack attempt to storm the Tatar fort at Mount Chyuvash was held off. On 23 October the Cossacks attempted to storm the Tatar fort at Mount Chyuvash for a fourth time when the Tatars counterattacked. Over a hundred Cossacks were killed but their gunfire forced a Tatar retreat and allowed the capture of two Tatar cannons. The forces of the Khan retreated and Yermak entered Qashliq on 26 October 1582.

In 1583 on the orders of Ivan IV has made a great tour of Moscow "ship battle" in Western Siberia.[Clarification needed] Pitched Voguls (Mansi) in Pelym, the army is on Tavda, followed by Toure and the Irtysh to the mouth of it in the Ob River. As a result of this campaign is set vassalage Vogul princes of Muscovy, Ivan IV and receives the title of Grand Prince Ugra, Prince Kondinsky and Obdorsk

Küçüm Khan retreated into the steppes and over the next few years regrouped his forces. He suddenly attacked Yermak on 6 August 1584 in the dead of night and killed most of his army. The details are disputed with Russian sources claiming Yermak was wounded and tried to escape by swimming across the Wagay river which is a tributary of the Irtysh tributary, but drowned under the weight of his own chainmail. The remains of Yermak's forces under the command of Mescheryak retreated from Qashliq, destroying the city as they left. In 1586 the Russians returned and after subduing the Khanty and Mansi people through the use of their artillery they established a fortress at Tyumen close to the ruins of Qashliq. The Tatar tribes that were submissive to Küçüm Khan suffered from several attacks by the Russians between 1584–1595; however, Küçüm Khan would not be caught. Finally, in August 1598 Küçüm Khan was defeated at the Battle of Urmin near the river Ob. In the course of the fight the Siberian royal family were captured by the Russians. However, Küçüm Khan escaped yet again. The Russians took the family members of Küçüm Khan to Moscow and there they remained as hostages. The descendants of the khan's family became known as the Princes Sibirsky and the family is known to have survived until at least the late 19th Century. Despite his personal escape, the capture of his family ended the political and military activities of Küçüm Khan and it is understood that he retreated to the territories of the Nogay Horde in southern Siberia. It has been known that he had been in contact with the Tsar and had requested that a small region on the banks of the Irtysh River would be granted as his dominion. This was rejected by the Tsar who proposed to Küçüm Khan that he come to Moscow and "comfort himself" in the service of the Tsar. However, the old khan did not want to suffer from such contempt and preferred staying in his own lands to "comforting himself" in Moscow. It is thought that Küçüm Khan then went to Bokhara and as an old man became blind, dying in exile with distant relatives sometime around 1605.

Conquest and exploration

Muscovite voevodas in the new-built fortress of Tyumen, from the Remezov Chronicle.

In order to subjugate the natives and collect yasak (fur tribute), a series of winter outposts (zimovie) and forts (ostrogs) were built at the confluences of major rivers and streams and important portages. The first among these were Tyumen and Tobolsk — the former built in 1586 by Vasilii Sukin and Ivan Miasnoi, and the latter the following year by Danilo Chulkov.[1] Tobolsk would become the nerve center of the conquest.[2] To the north Beryozovo (1593) and Mangazeya (1600-01) were built to bring the Nenets under tribute, while to the east Surgut (1594) and Tara (1594) were established to protect Tobolsk and subdue the ruler of the Narym Ostiaks. Of these, Mangazeya was the most prominent, becoming a base for further exploration eastward.[3] Advancing up the Ob and its tributaries, the ostrogs of Ketsk (1602) and Tomsk (1604) were built. Ketsk sluzhilye liudi ("servicemen") reached the Yenisei in 1605, descending it to the Sym; two years later Mangazeyan promyshlenniks and traders descended the Turukhan to its confluence with the Yenisei, where they established the zimovie Turukhansk. By 1610 men from Turukhansk had reached the mouth of the Yenisei and ascended it as far as the Sym, where they met rival tribute collectors from Ketsk. To ensure subjugation of the natives, the ostrogs of Yeniseysk (1619) and Krasnoyarsk (1628) were established.[3]

Following the khan's death and the dissolution of any organised Siberian resistance, the Russians advanced first towards Lake Baikal and then the Sea of Okhotsk and the Amur River. However, when they first reached the Chinese border they encountered people that were equipped with artillery pieces and here they halted. The Russians reached the Pacific Ocean in 1639.[4] After the conquest of the Siberian Khanate the whole of northern Asia - an area much larger than the old khanate - became known as Siberia and by 1640 the eastern borders of Russia had expanded more than several million square kilometres. In a sense, the khanate lived on in the subsidiary title "Tsar of Siberia" which became part of the full imperial style of the Russian Autocrats.


  1. Lantzeff, George V., and Richard A. Pierce (1973). Eastward to Empire: Exploration and Conquest on the Russian Open Frontier, to 1750. Montreal eduacadtion: McGill-Queen's U.P.. 
  2. Lincoln, W. Bruce (2007). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fisher, Raymond Henry (1943). The Russian Fur Trade, 1550-1700. University of California Press. 
  4. 2008-03-31 Reference Nationalencyklopedin

See also

  • Indigenous peoples of Siberia
  • Siberian Khanate
  • List of Russian explorers

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