Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c. 1595–1657) was the Cossack hetman who led the 1648 uprising against the Polish magnates in the southeastern territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that is now Ukraine. The popular uprising led to the establishment of a Cossack Hetmanate, which is widely viewed as the precursor to the modern Ukrainian state. It established Khmelnytsky as the leader of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, increased the number of registered Cossacks, expanded the privileges of the Orthodox Church, and changed the geopolitical balance of the region. The uprisings affected all the neighboring empires and states, including Muscovy, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Transylvania, Moldavia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Tatar Khanate. The events also had a devastating effect on Polish Jewry. Thousands of Jews, who were viewed by the Cossacks as allied with the Polish magnates, were massacred in 1648–1649. In the immediate aftermath, Jewish chroniclers compared Khmelnytsky to Amalek, and a fast day commemorating a medieval massacre was eventually extended to include the victims of the Cossack uprising. After several years of renewed battles and negotiations, including a brief period of alliance with the Ottoman Empire, Khmelnytsky accepted the protection of the tsar of Muscovy in the 1654 Treaty of Pereiaslav, although he soon sought alliances with other states (Sweden, Transylvania). Following Khmelnytsky’s death in 1657, the Cossacks saw their rights gradually reduced under Russian rule and at times pursued other political arrangements, including with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Khmelnytsky remains a contentious figure: he is remembered as a traitor to Poland, a villainous enemy to the Jews, a slippery ally to the Russians, and a problematic father of Ukrainian nationhood—revered for his leadership in fighting for Cossack sovereignty but rebuked by many for uniting with the tsar. Until recently, most studies of the Khmelnytsky period have been heavily informed by a single national or cultural tradition, whether Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, or Russian. However, the juxtaposition of monolithic histories of the Khmelnytsky epoch, as well as literary works about the epoch, offers insight into the way that diverse and competing national myths can be formed around a single pivotal figure or event. It is therefore our goal to provide a collection of sources that is as broad-ranging as possible, which takes into consideration folklore, mythology, and primary sources as well as historiography. The works provided, and our comments on them, demonstrate the transformations the Cossack uprising has undergone over time and under competing political and ideological regimes.
This section includes a sampling of several modern surveys of Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish history in English that devote significant attention to the early modern period and include sections on the Cossacks wars and Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
Davis, Norman. God’s Playground. A History of Poland. Vol. 1, The Origins to 1795. New York: Columbia University, 1982.
Includes a short section on the Cossack rebellions in the chapter on the Vasa dynasty. See pp. 462–468.
Gregorovich, Andrew. Cossack Bibliography. A Selected Bibliography of the Zaporozhian and other Cossacks of Ukraine, the Don Cossacks of Russia and the Kuban Cossacks. Toronto: Forum, 2008.
This bibliographic survey has 1557 entries on the Cossacks ranging from scholarly monographs to magazine and Internet articles, music works and paintings. It is organized alphabetically by author, but lacks indices and is cumbersome to navigate.
Magocsi, Robert Paul. A History of Ukraine. The Land and Its Peoples. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.
This general history of Ukraine includes subsections on the Zaporozhian Cossacks, on the anti-Jewish violence during the Cossack wars. Chapters 15–17 cover the emergence of the Cossacks and their role in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; the Khmelnytsky uprising, and the Pereyaslav Treaty and its consequences. This usable history is narrated with an eye to the gradual formation of Ukrainian nationhood and is accessible to students in an undergraduate-level class.
Plokhy, Serhii. The Origins of the Slavic Nations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
This monograph discusses the formation of early modern nations in Eastern Europe. It includes chapters on the formation of early modern Ukrainians (Ruthenians) in broad historical context, sections on the role of the Cossacks in the shaping of Ukrainian nation as well as their fate in the political sphere of Muscovy, and on the emergence of the cult of Khmelnytsky among the Cossack elites in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Plokhy, Serhii. The Gates of Europe. A History of Ukraine. New York: Basic Books, 2015.
A survey of Ukraine’s history for a general reader. Includes a short chapter on the Cossacks and Khmelnytsky period. See pp. 73–84.
Polonsky, Antony. The Jews in Poland and Russia 1350 to the Present Day. Vol. 1, 1350–1881. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2009.
This broad overview of culture and civilization of the east European Jews includes the chapter “The Polish-Lithuanian Background,” which examines the impact of the Khmelnytsky uprising and Cossack wars within a broad political, socio-economic, and religious context of Jewish communities in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.
Reddaway, William Fiddian, and Oskar Halecki, ed. The Cambridge History of Poland. Vol. 1, From the Origins to Sobieski (to 1696). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1950.
Includes a useful discussion of the Cossack wars and Khmelnytsky in chapter 13: “The Reign of Jan Casimir, 1648–54” (pp. 503–517), written by a Ukrainian historian Myron Korduba.
Riasanovsky, Nicholas, and Mark Steinberg. A History of Russia. Vol. 1, To 1855. 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
A history of Russia that is accessible to a general readership that includes a short section on Cossack wars and Khmelnytsky in chapter 17: “The Reigns of Michael, 1613–45, Alexis, 1645–76, and Theodore, 1676–82.”
Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386–1795. A History of East Central Europe. Vol. 4, The Polish-Lithuanian state, 1386–1795. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
This history includes a section on the Khmelnytsky-led Cossack wars in a context of the reign of Jan Kazimierz. See pp. 160–166.
Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine. A History. 4th ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.
Part 3 focuses on the Cossack era. Section 8, “The Great Revolt” provides a compact overview of Khmelnytsky uprising.
Velychenko, Stephen. National History as Cultural Process. A Survey of the Interpretations of Ukraine’s Past in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Historical Writing from the Earliest Times to 1914. Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1992.
This survey discusses diverse and often conflicting representations of Khmelnysky and his era in a broad corpus of Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian historical narratives.
Vernadsky, George. A History of Russia. Vol. 5, Pts. 1–2, The Tsardom of Moscow, 1547–1682. Yale, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969.
This broad history includes overviews of the Cossacks and Khmelnytsky uprising. Chapter 4: “The Ukrainian Revolution and the Union of the Ukraine with Moscow, 1648–54,” provides an overview of the context, course, and outcomes of the events of the Khmelnytsky uprising. Chapter 5, “The Tsardom of All the Great, Little, and White Russias, 1654–67,” discusses the consequences of the Pereiaslav Treaty and the final years of Khmelnytsky.
Weinryb, Bernard. The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community of Poland from 1100 to 1800. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973.
The fate of the Jews during Khmelnytsky uprising discussed in a broad historical context.
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