Photo Credit: Captured landowners are put on trial by rebels in The Court of Pugachev, by Vasssily Grigorievich Perov.
By Blaine Taylor On August 12, 1772, a wandering Don Cossack named Emelian Pugachev crossed the Polish frontier into Imperial Russia on an official passport that entitled him, after spending six weeks in quarantine, to resettle as a free citizen on the Irgiz River in southeast Russia. It was a strange crossing. One of the border guards said to another, “You know, this man looks like the double of Peter III,” the former czar who had been deposed and murdered by his wife, Empress Catherine II, nine years earlier. Since few Cossacks had ever seen the real czar, who could say definitively that this was not he? Pugachev laughed at the suggestion. A shabby, bearded man, only five feet, four inches tall, he hardly cut a regal figure. But the border guard persisted. “I’m not joking,” he told Pugachev. “You’re the spitting image of Peter III.” He should know, claimed the guard, since he had been a guardsman at one time in the royal capital at St. Petersburg. From this almost comical suggestion began a revolt of Cossacks, factory peasants, and serfs that would last for two years and encompass fully a fifth of the empire’s population, spreading from the Caspian Sea to the Ural Mountains and the gates of Moscow. Pugachev’s Rebellion, as it came to be known, would shake Catherine’s throne to its very foundations. The Time of Pugachev Pugachev, a former junior lieutenant in the Russian Army, was a symbol of a smoldering revolt that had been waiting for some time
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