Cossacks were groups of professional warriors first recorded as a separate group of society around late 15th century. Russian Cossacks are typically seen as agile cavalry armed with lances and sabres, while Ukrainian Cossacks mostly fought on feet and were notorious for their mastery of musketeer tactics. There were two main groups of cossacks:
- Zaporozhian Cossacks, named so because their stronghold (Zaporozhian Sich) was located on an island beyond ("Za") the rapids ("porogi") of the river Dnieper. For a while the Zaporozhians helped (for Sich Cossacks) or served (for Registered Cossacks) Poland fighting off Crimean Tatars — not that Poland had much control over them. They played a big role in the history of Ukraine, at one point liberating it from Poland and creating the Cossack Hetmanate - a Ukrainian state in 1648-1764, a vassal of Muscovy and later Russian Empire during most of its history. Russian government, while seeing the value of mighty Zaporozhian Cossack troops, barely tolerated Sich's and Hetmanate's existence, as their regions were free of serfdom and too autonomous for The Empire. Considering it to be a separatist element, Russian Empire under Catherine II annexed Cossack Hetmanate in 1764, then ordered to destroy the Sich in 1775. After the fall of Sich, many Zaporozhian cossacks migrated to the Kuban river valley, and these ones became the Black Sea Cossack Host, later known as Kuban Cossacks. Other Cossacks either intermingled with other parts of Ukrainian society, or escaped to the Ottoman Empire where they were organised into the Danube Cossack Host (Zadunays'ka Sich), which later returned to Russian-ruled Ukraine and became the Azov Cossack Host, that existed until 1866.
- Don Cossacks, named because of the river Don. Gradually formed after Brodnici ("ford men", a large multi-ethnic group in southern Ruthenia) intermingled with Mongols and Cumans (traditional seminomad rivals and allies of Ruthenian princes) in the Steppe and thus adopted independent steppe-wandering style of life, as well as their name (the word "Cossack" has Turkic origins, usually reffering to "free men", who could not find their place in society and went into the steppes, where they acknowledged no authority - some other Turkic names have the same etymology - the Kazakh people for example) from these nomads. Joined by adventurous Russian nobles and runaway peasants, the Don Host became an important part of Muscovite Tsardom's politics, while staying independent from the Tsar until the beginning of 18th century. After the suppression of Bulavin's revolt by the Russians, the Don Host was completely incorporated into Russia as an irregular military organization with some privileges, but less autonomy.
- The Cossacks is a 1928 silent film based on a Leo Tolstoy novel, in which said Cossacks spend their time drinking vodka and fighting Turks.
- Ogniem i Mieczem Polish historical novel from 1884, set during the Khmelnytsky Uprising of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.
- The Russian Jewish short story writer, Isaac Babel served alongside the Cossacks, and wrote about it in his famous Red Cavalry stories. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote on the clash this created:
In early 1921, Babel joined a Cossack regiment. Those blustering and useless warriors (no one in the history of the universe has been defeated more often than the Cossacks)) were, of course, anti-Semitic. The mere idea of a Jew on horseback struck them as laughable, and the fact that Babel was a good horseman only added to their disdain and spite. A couple of welltimed and flashy exploits enabled Babel to make them leave him in peace.
- Taras Bulba 2009 Russian film featuring Zaporozhian cossacks, based on novel of the same name by Nikolai Gogol. There's an older Hollywood version of the movie starring the great Yul Brynner as Taras himself.
- Cossacks also play major roles in other Gogol stories, including A Terrible Vengeance.
- The first entry in the Cossacks series of historical RTS games (as well as its two expansions) aptly features an entire nation of these, representing 17th and early 18th century Ukraine in the game. There is also a mercenary Cossack light cavalry unit available to all nations, and a Don Cossack light cavalry unit for the Russian nation.
- One can only assume this is where the Russian Dr. Cossack got his name from in the Megaman series.
- The Cossacks are Russian unique national units in the recent Civilization games.
- In the James Bond film GoldenEye, the Big Bad is the son of Lienz Cossacks, a group of cossacks who fought for Nazi Germany (or perhaps more accurately, with the Nazis against the Soviets, in their eyes anyway) and were forcefully repatriated to the USSR (where they would be tried and executed for treason) by the British. Their Real Life counterparts never lived in a place named "Lienz", this was the Austrian town where they were delivered to the Soviets in late May 1945.
- Cossacks are one of the units for the Russian civilization in Age of Empires III.
- In Mount & Blade the addon "With Fire and Sword" features Cossack Hetmanate as one of the main factions, central to the plot of the game.
- In The Most Dangerous Game General Zaroff says that Ivan is a Cossack, and considering that Ivan is a Husky Russkie this seems to be used as a form of Mother Russia Makes You Strong, which is followed up by a similar comment about himself.
- An American Tail opens with the Jewish village of Shostka being subjected to a pogrom by Cossacks, while the equivalent cat versions of the Cossacks terrorize Jewish mice.
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations has a Cossack as one of the Multiplayer characters, the Vanguard.
- Many of the characters in Mikahil Sholokhov's The Quiet Don are Cossacks from the Don region of Russia.
- Cossack Cavalry is used by the European Alliance in March Of War.
- A Cossack shows up in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as an assassin working for Moriarty to kill a gypsy who might have been sent information on his plans.
- In Snatch., Avi refers to Boris (whom he thinks is Russian) as a "Cossack." Because Avi is Jewish and Cossacks were involved in anti-Jewish pogroms, this is meant as an insult.
- In the HBO show Oz, Russian mobster Yuri Kosygin is stated to be of Cossack lineage and is one of the most dangerous inmates in the prison.
- The Russian folk song "Stenka Razin" (with lyrics by Dmitri Sadovnikov) describes a fictional episode in the life of the eponymous hero, a Don Cossack chief. The song describes the Cossacks as wild and warlike, and Stenka sacrifices his beautiful young bride, a Persian princess, to maintain the loyalty of his men.
- The page image depicts a group of Cossacks writing a reply to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire. Having been defeated in a battle, Mehmed attempted to intimidate the Cossacks into submission, sending them a declaration filled with impressive titles and the many lands he ruled. The Cossacks' reply twisted the many titles and lands into some very creative profanity. When "goat-fucker of Alexandria" is one of the tamer insults, you know you picked a fight with the wrong people.