In carrying out their policy,
the magnates of Belorussia and Lithuania relied on their towns not only as
fortified points of defense. When necessary, towns mobilized their militias, and
could be further utilized for the maintenance of permanent garrisons and
concentration of local military groups made up of mercenary soldiers and
Town militias existed as early
as the beginning of the 16th century, when Belorussians defended
their towns from invasion by the Crimean Tartars. Town inhabitants, most likely
generically related to the town militias of Kievan Ruthenia, allied themselves
with the lord’s feudal detachments.
In practice, most militias were
concentrated in larger, fortified towns and were utilized mainly for local
defense. The existence of the town
militia was of primary concern not only to the magnates, who strove to exploit
all resources, including human ones, for the defense of their holdings, but also
to the inhabitants of the towns themselves.
Working people were dependent on
them for their safety since war affected them most of all. The conquest of a
town by the enemy was accompanied by looting, rapes, murders, fires, epidemics
and, not infrequently, considerable destruction to the town itself. Under conditions of feudal anarchy, frequent wars, and the decline of the
central authority in the old Polish Republic, town militias represented a force
able to defend the town and its possessions as well as the lives of its
inhabitants. The town militias of Belorussia and Lithuania had no independent
military significance; they carried on military operations only in defense of
Military service of the majority
of the townspeople in a magnate's town was considered a local obligation to the
lord of the town, and not to the state. The magnate defined the principles of
the practical application of this duty, and the higher officials of his
administration, or the garrison commanders, exercised a general control over the
fulfillment of this duty. As a
rule, the magnates, while making use of the town militia, relied on the wealthy
merchant class as well as on the members of the town board and the guild elders. One should note that the magnates regarded both the town militia and the
towns themselves as tools, a means to political power, and often exposed the
towns and their militias to grievous losses.
When danger arose, town
inhabitants were obliged, as a part of the town militia, with weapons in their
hands, to defend the town. Each townsperson and even guest--whoever then
present--was expected to step forth together with servants and every kind of
weapon. Every inhabitant of the town was duty-bound to participate in military
drills, shooting practice, and to keep his weapons in good order. The time and
place of the shooting practice were precisely determined.
The direct administration of the
town militia was the responsibility of the town boards, town heads and persons
designated by the town board. All
the detailed problems concerning organization, administration, and supplies were
resolved during town board sessions. During
military operations, officers and sergeants of the town garrisons commanded
units of the town militias.
The number of the town
militiamen depended on the population of a town. And so, in May 1706, during the siege of the Nesvizh castle by the army
of Swedish King Charles XII, the garrison of the Nesvizh stronghold included 110
townsmen. They formed the Nesvizh
town militia. In December 1673, in
Birzhai, 139 inhabitants were members of the town militia. The town militia of Koidanov, in the sixties and seventies of
the 18th century was
also numerous. One can assume that
it numbered not less than 130 men, for in that period this was the exact number
of Christian homeowners in Koidanov, and under the conditions of the system of
the town militia all the townsmen were obliged to serve.
The most numerous was the Slutsk town militia. Every male in town, able to carry weapons, was assigned to regiments. The regiments were formed according to the place of residence in sections
of the town. In June 1655, four
regiments existed in Slutsk (Table 1). They
were divided into hundreds, differing as to their numerical makeup. The largest number of hundred was in the two regiments named after the
commanders of these regiments, the Slutsk town head and John Strzelnikowicz,
which had been formed in the Old Town, ten hundreds from a total of eighteen.
The regiment formed from inhabitants of the New Town - the New
Town regiment - was equal in number to the Ostrov regiment, another suburb of
Slutsk. The inhabitants of
Troichany, the second Slutsk suburb, were a part of the sixth hundred of the
regiment of the Slutsk town head.
|Regiments||Number of hundreds||Men in Regiment|
Regiment of “Slutsk Town Head
Regiment of “Mr. John Strezelnikowicz”
The New Town regiment
The Ostrov regiment
Total Four Regiments
of the hundreds was made up of groups not attached to any unit. These men had
come to Slutsk in time of war and subsequently settled there. Two hundreds of
John Strzelnikowicz's regiment and also the fourth hundred in the Ostrov
regiment were formed by these men. The magnates and upper classes preferred the
policy of separating migrant and often restless elements from the remaining
townspeople but also sought to take advantage of unattached people for the
fulfillment of military obligation. Hundreds,
numbering 100 men each, were divided into tens.
The system of organization into
tens also existed in other magnates' towns in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1635, in Kopys' [sic] there were five hundreds, named after their
commanders: Nalivaiko, Hrychno, Zakharchin, Matysko, and Kurylowicz. The town of
Shklov in 1643 had 11 hundreds of townsmen, including four "trans-Dnieper"
hundreds; these hundreds were also divided into tens.
In the early 18th
century the militia of Bykhov was also divided into hundreds and tens. In
Birzhai in 1673 the town militia consisted of 14 tens; there were 10 men in each
with the exception of two tens. One
can assume most probably that an analogous composition of the tens also existed
in the hundreds of the Slutsk militia. The Slutsk town militia numbered about 1800 men in the summer
As in Slutsk, the system of
recruitment in Birzhai was based on a territorial and social principle. At the
1673 military review, on the right flank stood the two tens composed of the
members of the town board and inhabitants of the center of the town, followed by
tens of more of the town's inhabitants. A separately formed fourteenth group of
ten consisting of tenants was also present.
The decimal system of the
division of the town's inhabitants into hundreds and tens existed in Slutsk as
early as the twenties of the 17th century. In the second half of that
century, the numerical composition of the regiments in Slutsk changed. This was
caused by the events of war and by the migration of the population.
On 7 June 1661 the military
review of the town of Slutsk took place. Three
regiments were presented: 1) the regiment of the Slutsk town head, consisting of
three hundreds and a separate group of men under the monastery's jurisdiction, a
total of 324 persons; 2) the regiment of Mr. John Strzelnikowicz, consisting of
four hundreds, a total of 368 persons; and 3) the regiment of Mr. Nicholas
Rahoza, probably from the New Town, consisting of three hundreds, a total of 327
persons. The total number of the Slutsk militia at that time was 1019 men, of
whom 760 were house owners and their tenants and 259 were guests and
In 1681 in the three Slutsk
regiments, dwellers of 922 Christian and 173 Jewish houses were represented. The militia numbered at least 1095 men, not less than it had been 20
It is interesting to note that
at the end of the 17th century the Jewish population of Slutsk
formerly not part of the militia, was incorporated into the Slutsk regiments and
expected by the magnate to help defend the town. Participation in the militia
and, above all, extensive monetary contributions for the defense, participation
in the work of strengthening the fortified points, and allotment of billets for
the garrison soldiers and officers were part of this obligation.
In the Slutsk military census of
1689, the Jewish population was already incorporated into the town regiments and
hundreds. According to the data of
that census, there had been preserved in Slutsk a division of the town's
inhabitants into three regiments - two from the Old Town (the regiments of Marks
and Olaikevich) and one from the New Town (the regiment of Hrehor Lapitzki). Assessment of the data in Table 2 reveals that each hundred consisted of
over 100 men, an average of 138 men, all house owners. If we should take into
consideration only the families of the townsmen, of which there were 1091, then
each hundred would have an average of 121 men.
Composition of Regiments in Slutsk in 1689
|Regiments||Number of hundreds||Number of houses|
Regiment of Marks
Regiment of Olaikevich
Regiment of Lapitzki
The number of hundreds in Slutsk
increased, but one regiment, Ostrov, was abolished after its destruction
in the middle of the 17th century
during a Russian-Polish war.
The system of division of the
inhabitants of Slutsk into regiments and hundreds continued to exist in the 18th
century as well. Even in 1777, the
inhabitants of Slutsk were divided into hundreds (there were five of these),
with the exception of craftsmen belonging to guilds.
These were already excluded from that type of organization of the town's
inhabitants. At that time, the
latifundial administration and the town board utilized the hundreds for the
purpose of collecting taxes.
The system of
division of the inhabitants of Slutsk into regiments was taken advantage of by
the lord of the town as well as by the town board in the 17th and 18th
centuries. Regiments were utilized not only for the defense of the town but also
for guarding gates and walls, or guarding against fires.
The units were also used for fiscal purposes. Through regiments and
hundreds, all kinds of taxes and fees were collected from the townspeople.
Commanders of the military units, their colonels and assistants, were exempted
from some obligations. They
sometimes did not have to contribute to the construction of the defense walls,
street lighting, or the billeting of garrison soldiers and officers.
The decimal system of the
militia of a Belorussian magnate's town was closely related to an analogous
feudal town system in the former Ruthenian State. Novgorod, Pskov and other
Ruthenian towns had such systems. The
similarity of the hundreds concept between Belorussian and Ruthenian towns
became even more striking as the fiscal function of this institution
intensified. This occurred in both in Belorussia and Russia up to the 18th
century, and could be seen in the so-called posad hundreds in Russian towns.
As regards military
organization, the decimal system of the militia of a feudal Belorussian town was
derived undoubtedly from an identical system to old Ruthenian towns where armies
were raised in hundreds and tens. Very similar was the system of the
organization of the town militia in Novgorod and Pskov, which also had armies
consisting of regiments and hundreds. Hundreds and tens existed also in the
rifle troops in the Russian State in the 16th century. In fact,
hundreds endured until the 20th century in Cossack cavalry and
The commander for four town
regiments did not come from among the Slutsk townspeople. Directing the defense
of the town and the almost 2000-man militia required special training.
Appointing commanders of military units was a function of the municipal
board. The magnate's administration did not intervene in the internal matters of
the town militia, correctly assuming that the upper-class townspeople would not
allow anyone from among the town's poor to occupy commanders' posts.
The record books of the meetings
of the Slutsk town board in the second half of the 17th century
contain many decrees in matters of the town's defense and the organization of
the town's militias. The town
regiments and hundreds are mentioned in the book of records in December 1654.
On July 20, 1655, during a war between the Russian State and the Old
Polish Republic, a resolution was passed concerning the inspection of weapons
and military equipment in the four town regiments. At that session, new
commanders belonging to the regiments were elected.
Four colonels were chosen; the
Slutsk town head (from a wealthy merchant family - Semyon Volkovich; John
Strzelnikowicz; the commander of the New Town regimen, Maxim Petryka; and the
commander of the Ostrov regiment, Makita Dziortka. These men were wealthy, upper
class townspeople. Possibly, when appointments to these posts were made,
influence and wealth of these or other upper class townspeople were not the only
personal traits taken into consideration. It was important to look for
organizational abilities and personal courage, traits that would later manifest
themselves among many Belorussian merchants on their frequent journeys with
goods and money during attack by robbers or armed noblemen. The town board
appointed to important command posts those individuals who enjoyed the
confidence of not only the town board itself but also of the prince's
Every regimental colonel was
assigned a lieutenant colonel. The commanders of hundreds had one to three aides
apiece, called assistant commanders. However, in 1655, some commanders of
hundreds stepped forth without their aides. Junior commanding officers were
leaders of tens. They do not appear in the list of commanders as approved by a
session of the municipal board. The appointing of these was probably left to the
colonels themselves. In the Slutsk militia in July 1655 there were a total of
four colonels, four lieutenant colonels, 18 commanders of hundreds, and 18
serving as their aides. Analogous posts existed also in the other magnates'
towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For
example, the military census of the town of Birzhai of 14 December 1673 mentions
commanders of units of tens. In the 18th c. in Bykhov there were commanders of
hundreds and tens. Commanders of hundreds are recorded in Kopys' [sic] in 1635
and also in Shklov in 1643.
The Slutsk military census of
1689 mentions three colonels, seven commanders of hundreds (two hundreds were
commanded by their assistants, because the posts of commanders of hundreds were
not filled), seven assistant commanders of hundreds, one lieutenant in a unit of
a hundred, and four municipal standard-bearers. The colonels, the commanders of
hundreds, and the lieutenant were merchants. Among the commanders of hundreds
were master craftsmen--a kettle-maker, a shoemaker, and a weaver.
In case of vacancy, the posts of
colonels were filled at a session of the town council. Thus, in the records of a
session of the town board of 30 October 1674 we read: “The post of colonel in
the Old and New Town is vacant, for which it is necessary to elect and confirm
persons nominated by their colleagues.” In the same way the posts of
lieutenant and of commander of a hundred were filled, one of the latter usually
receiving the higher rank. The records of the town board note that upper class
townsmen were chosen for these posts.
Actually, the colonels decided
upon filling these posts, so much so that at times the council would forget to
confirm the appointments. Thus, on 16 August 1679, instructions were given to
Colonel John Strzelnikowicz to remove the incumbent commanders of hundreds from
their posts and to appoint in their place more competent ones at the next
general military inspection.
The weapons of the town militia
reflect the development of military arms. Wealthy and propertied townsmen had
with muskets, belswords, rifles, and pistols. In the year 1678, Ivan
Skotchkevitch, a wealthy townsman and the elder of the Eastern Orthodox
Brotherhood of Salvation, had a Cossack style belsword encased in silver, a
couple of Torun muskets and a great quantity of firearms. In general, weapons
were quite costly. For example, muskets available in 1673 from the Slutsk town
armory cost 4z3. (gold pieces) each. Consequently, only merchants and master
craftsmen could afford firearms. Townsmen of limited means had all kinds of
cutting weapons, cold steel weapons e.g. battleaxes, and some were armed with
whatever weapons they could get.
The carrying of belswords and other weapons
by Belorussian townsmen was a rather common occurrence. That is why all guild
statutes, in almost identical words, prohibited the members of a guild to bring
weapons with them to guild meetings to prevent bloodshed during arguments! And
so, in the statute of the Slutsk guild of hosiers of Nov. 7, 1664, we read:
“Having convened in a meeting, none of the elder and younger brothers ought to
have with him a belsword, a cutlass, a knife or any weapon suitable for a
fight.” Identical prohibitions appear in the statutes of furrier guilds,
leather craftsmen, saddle makers, morocco craftsmen, locksmiths, blacksmiths,
weavers, and shoemakers.
The magnates of Belorussia and Lithuania
imposed upon the townsmen the obligation of owning a weapon and keeping it in
good condition. Every Birzhai townsman was duty-bound to have his own musket and
coldsteel weapon. This was ordered by the decree of Prince Boguslav Radzivill
during the sixties of the 17th century. In giving Birzhai its town
charter in 1683, Princess Louise Caroline decreed that every Birzhai townsman
should have a halberd or a musket and a belsword. The same custom existed also
in Bykhov, where at the beginning of the 18th c. every townsman was obliged to
have a manually operated gun--his own matchlock. The Slutsk townsmen had the
duty, as asserts the inventory record of the year 1751, to possess weapons for
military service. Furthermore,
keeping the firearms in good condition was mandatory, as shown by a document
from 1758 concerning Bykhov.
Arming the townsmen was proposed
not by the magnates but by the townsmen themselves. Thus, on 27 September 1592,
a resolution of the head, of the mayors, councilors, and assessors of the whole
town of Nesvizh obliged every townsman, on the basis of an earlier ordinance of
the town board, to have a matchlock, powder, and bullets. He who did not fulfill
this obligation paid the town treasury a fine of one stack of Lithuanian
pennies. In Slutsk, in conformity with the law of 1621, a townsman who did not
have his weapon in order paid the town treasury four stacks of pennies.
The resolution of the Slutsk
town board of 23 February 1655, decreed that the commandant of the town assign
for the disposal of each colonel two garrison officers who would carry out, in
the townsmen's houses, an inspection of the weapons owned by them. He who had a
rifle should have it in order, and also powder and bullets for his rifle; and he
who did not have a rifle should have a battleaxe, a halberd, or an iron fork.
In time of war, inspections of
this kind were made in towns every month. For example, a notice was issued in
Birzhai in 1648-1649 stipulating that everyone should have his weapon at home in
readiness, and also powder and bullets. In an order to the Slutsk townsmen on 31
August 1655, it was decreed that each of the townsmen defending the walls who
did not have firearms and was armed only with cold-steel weapons should bring
with him five fist-sized stones for throwing at the enemy in the event of a
siege. A part of the militia was even armed with harquebuses.
At the military inspection of the three regiments of the town of Slutzk
on 7 June 1661, 760 house owners with their lodgers and 259 guests and
unassociated ones had for personal weapons 532 rifles and 766 pieces of small
The inhabitants of the other
magnate towns were also armed in this manner. In the decree of Prince Janusz
Radzivill, the Lithuanian commander-in-chief, of 8 Dec. 1648, the inhabitants
were ordered to have good muskets, powder, and bullets. At the military
inspection in Birzhai on 14 December 1673, the inhabitants were armed with all
kinds of weapons. The commanders of units of ten had battleaxes, and
additionally, some of them had belswords. The remaining inhabitants were armed
with muskets, guns, French guns, bandoleers, “bird” guns (small-caliber
weapons firing small bullets), and pistols.
There were 27 guns with a
matchlock, which was still used as late as the 16th c.; there were 35 with a
wheel-type lock which was used at the beginning of the 17th c; there were 23
with a flintlock from the 17th c.; and there were 37 with unspecified locks. The
Birzhai inhabitants were equipped with small arms such as poleaxes, belswords,
halberds, and swords. The townsmen serving in the militia of Koidanov and other
magnate towns had their own weapons. If some of the poorer townsmen, especially
tenants, did not have their own weapons, they received arms from the magnate's
arsenal for the duration of the siege.
In large self-governing in
peacetime municipal weapon depositories housed the weapons of the townsmen and
equipment and supplies of munitions. In the rescript of Prince Boguslav
Radzivill in 1661, it was recommended to the Slutzk townspeople that each
townsman who has registered in the census books, should deposit a matchbox
musket for his own need in the public municipal weapons depository.
The prince assured that guns belonging to the townsmen would not be taken
away for the garrison's use.
It should be noted that a
magnate did not compel townsmen to buy the costly modern weapons with a
wheel-type lock or a flintlock at their own expense. Quite clearly, he treated
the town militia as an auxiliary force and paid such scant attention to arming
it with modern firearms. However, he saw to it that all townsmen would have
firearms, even if they were of inferior quality.
The mobilization of the town
militia took place as it had in the Middle Ages. Usually a cannon shot and/or
the beating of drums raised the alarm. Beating
of drums was ordered in a resolution of the town board and the townspeople of
Nesvizh of 27 September 1592.
Avoidance of military duty by
the townsmen was punishable by fine. In Nesvizh, as in other places, not only
the owners of houses but also the tenants who rented rooms (chambers)
participated. In the mentioned resolution we read: “... and as soon as they
beat the drum, let them come out at once, and especially a man and landlord in
their own persons, as for a battle, under penalty of 12 groschen for the town
In Slutsk, the commandant
prepared orders concerning the action of the town militia at time of siege. This
kind of order was confirmed at a town session of 31 August 1655 and recommended
strict discipline during military operations, justified both by the war
necessity and the need to prevent any kind of riots among the town poor. It was
forbidden, in the event of an alarm, to ring church bells, to beat drums, and to
gather in a disorderly crowd. All the townsmen were obliged to proceed from
their houses to points of defense on the city wall which had been designated for
regiments and hundreds. After the signal--a cannon shot from the Upper
Castle--the hundreds, fully armed, were to occupy the defense sectors assigned
If time allowed, hundreds
gathered into regiments. In case of dire need they entered combat on their own.
A hundred was then a basic tactical unit in the battle for the town. During an
attack the townsmen were prohibited to make noise, to shout, and to insult the
enemy. It was necessary to follow closely the orders of the garrison officers
while making use of weapons. It was forbidden to shoot at great range, but it
was necessary to aim at the enemy at a close range. To create the indispensable
density of firing on the walls, members of the militia who had good firearms
were dispersed evenly among townsmen who had only small arms and stones.
Under penalty of death, townsmen
were not permitted to leave their defensive positions when fires broke out in
the town. The putting out of fires during attack upon the town was the
responsibility of women. To make it impossible for the enemy to occupy
convenient positions for firing upon the town, and to make it difficult for him
to establish his quarters around the town, unfortified suburbs were burned, as
in 1655, when the Ostrov suburb was burned in Slutsk.
In case of a prolonged siege,
food rationing introduced. Only thanks to such strict measures was it possible
for the garrison command to establish and maintain discipline during a siege of
the town by the troops of Prince Trubetzkoy in September 1655. The order also
attests to the fact that the town militias were subordinated to a military
command consisting of professional officers who served the interests of the
The military and tactical
application of town militias was limited to the defense of town fortresses.
However, sometimes town militias were utilized outside the town in armed
feuds between magnates. At such times, town militias would play a role similar
to the detachments of nobles or mercenaries.
The town militia of Bykhov, in the 18th century, participated
in the defense of the boundaries of their lord's dominion.
The military readiness of the militia was of no concern to the
feudatories commanding it, which strove to attain their goals while disregarding
the losses that the town militia might suffer.
The Koidanov townspeople in the
second half of the 18th century suffered greatly. The town with its
district had been pledged as a security to the Princess Voronetzki (1760 to
1778). The administrator of the pledge, a certain Dressel who had been appointed
by the Voronetzkis, forced the Koidanov townspeople to gather a militia and to
arm themselves at their own expense, after which he ordered them to make an
incursion upon the estate of the Messrs. Kostrovitzkis in Novoselki. The militia
was not favored by success. The town head, Nicholas Ponotchka, was killed, many
townsmen died or were wounded, and their weapons were captured.
One of the ways of maintaining
military discipline during peacetime, concomitant with the military obligation
of a magnate town, were so-called general military inspections. All the townsmen
were obliged, on a designated day, or by hundreds within a few days, to appear,
fully armed, in one of the town squares or in a determined place near the town.
In Slutsk, the place of
inspections was the square in front of the New Fortress, with an area of 0.198
hectares. All who took part in the inspection were inscribed in a special
register in which was also entered information about the condition of their
weapons and equipment. Failure to appear at general inspections was severely
punished. Inspections were sometimes scheduled quarterly in Birzhai in 1636; at
other times, they were scheduled as needed.
Thus, in August 1672, the Slutsk town board, during a war of the Old
Polish Republic against Turkey and Crimea, took measures to defend the town. The
leaders of the hundreds of each town regiment were ordered to issue a
disposition that people should prepare weapons, powder, and bullets, and appear
at a general inspection within a week after the publication of the deadline.
For the most part, however,
general inspections were held once a year, as in Bykhov and Slutsk.
In the ordinance of the town of Slutsk of 1621, a yearly inspection was
ordained in the last week before Christmas, 18 to 25 December. It was held in
the presence of the elder, the captain or commandant of the fortress and the
town head, and lasted three days. At the inspection every Christian house owner
was to be present with a musket or a good long matchlock, and with good small
arms such as a belsword, a cutlass, a saber, or a sword. The only ones who could
be absent were those gravely ill or merchants on a long journey. These were
obliged to send a substitute in their place to the inspection.
Widows and orphans with the permission of the town authorities, and
depending on their financial condition, could also send a substitute.
The ordinance defined these
inspections as no mere ceremonies but useful procedures. It stressed the
necessity of having the registrar's office record each name and degree of
preparation. It also said that that these registers must kept-- one copy in the
town treasury and another in the castle.
In time of war, not only the
townsmen should appear at the inspection with their weapons but also temporary
visitors such as inhabitants, together with their servants, of other Belorussian
towns, both those belonging to the magnates and those to the king. The clergy
living in the town were obliged to send to the inspection their menservants with
weapons. However, these decrees for the time of war were issued not by the town
board but by the magnate's deputies.
During the siege of a town, even
the noblemen living in the town were summoned to the town walls. This summons
was usually accompanied by conferences with the commandant of the fortress with
representatives of the nobility.
The Jewish population, in the
middle of the 17th century was not incorporated into the town
regiments, but did participate in the defense of the town. In the record of the
session of the town board of Slutsk of 19 January 1655, attention was called to
the fact that the Jews in this town had their own defense.
At the end of the 17th
century, the Jewish population of Slutsk was assigned to town regiments. Poles,
Germans, and Russians living in the town were also incorporated into these
The manifesto of Michael Casimir
Radzivill to the town of Nesvizh (of August 1654) attests also to the
participation of other groups of the population in the town militia. It makes
reference to the fact that the Jews who had built their homes on town lots
should be subordinated to the town board in the matters of performing guard and
defense duty, and of constructing defense walls, and should take part in
An analogous situation existed
also in Birzhai. Prince Janusz Radzivill ordered on 8 December 1648 that during
inspection all people should take part whether living in the town as house
owners or tenants, and of whatever nationality, social status, or financial
condition. In the year 1673, in the inspection of the townsmen in the tens of
the town militia, Lithuanians, Poles, Belorussians, Germans, Jews, and Scotsmen
(proof of this are the first and last names of the townsmen members of the
Militia) participated. In Bykhov, in conformity with the decree of
vice-chancellor Michael Sapieha (1758), the militia included Belorussians,
Poles, Tartars, and Jews, who would appear at the inspection within units of
hundreds and tens, with their weapons.
Even though, initially, town
militias in magnate towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisted only of
townsmen, later on they included all those inhabitants of a town who “swore
bondage” to the lord of the town. This was related not only to the magnate's
endeavor to strengthen the defense of his fortress, but also to his striving to
unify the obligations of all the social and denominational groups of the town
population, moreover, not only within the scope of defense.
A magnate required that townsmen
should participate personally in a military inspection. On December 8, 1648, Janusz
Radzivill instructed the mayor and all the council of the town of Birzhai to
strictly observe, and, above all, to see to it that everyone in his own person
should come out of his house to the inspection. Sending in his place some
domestic servant or some hired ruffian was frowned upon.
In practice, however, wealthy
townsmen as well as widows continued to send substitutes. At the inspection of
1673 in Birzhai, of 139 members of the militia 13 were hired substitutes
(footmen) for upper class townsmen. The first unit of ten, consisting of members
of the town council, was, with the exception of the commander, made up entirely
At times, the town militias of
magnates' towns included cavalry and artillery. The ordinance of the town of
Slutsk of 5 May 1621, signed by the guardian of the then under-age Prince
Boguslav Radzivill, and his paternal uncle, Christopher Radzivill, the
commander-in-chief of Lithuania, provided for the formation of a cavalry
detachment within the town militia. They decreed that everyone in the market
square, and every merchant who has chambers in the market square, and every
guildmaster, is to have in his house a good saddle, and all the horseman's
outfit; and the commanders of the hundreds themselves should always have in
their houses not only firearms and weapons but also horsemen's equipment.
It is characteristic that a
cavalry detachment of townsmen was to consist only of wealthy members of this
social class. The powerful class of
Slutsk townsmen who fulfilled their military duty on horseback, resembled an
analogous social group of mounted Vitebsk townsmen who, by the charter of 1597,
had been given equal rights with the remaining Vitebsk townsmen (as opposed to
the mounted autochthonous townsmen). One should also add that in Slutsk some
members of the powerful town merchants were descended from the boyars who had
settled in the town in the 15th to 16th centuries.
However, in later documents of
the middle of the 17th century is no mention is made of either the
town cavalry in Slutzk or the cavalry service of the townsmen. A cavalry
detachment was not necessary in the makeup of the town militia, since the lord
of the town had increased his garrison several times by including cavalry units
In one of the charters for
Birzhai, granted by Christopher Radzivill in May 1636 after a consultation with
the townsmen, it was decreed that the townsmen, in return for an expansion of
their rights, would perform a defined military duty for the defense of that
frontier town and castle. For this
reason also, quarterly inspections were introduced in order to check as well on
the townsmen's ability to fire cannons, independently of checking their armament
as infantrymen. This is the only
instance known to us of utilizing the town militia to man the artillery.
For combat preparation of the
townsmen, magnates recommended to the town authorities that shooting practices,
military training, and conferences be conducted. In the rescript of Prince
Boguslav Radzivill of 25 January 1662 for the Slutsk townsmen, it was pointed
out that a definite time and place should be designated for shooting practice.
Also in the middle of the 18th century, it was everyone's duty to
participate in military training and shooting practices. The Bykhov townsmen in
the 18th century were obliged to take part in military training
conducted under the supervision of commanders of tens and hundreds.
the program of military training, magnates introduced an element of shooting
contests, in order to encourage the townsmen to be combat-ready. General
inspections, as a rule, ended with shooting contests. Thus, in the ordinance of
Slutsk in 1621, Prince Christopher Radzivill recommended that at the shooting
contests the following be present: the elder (the prince's deputy), the captain
(commandant of the fortress), and the town head. It was they who were the judges
of these shooting contests. They selected the best shooters from among the
townsmen. If many shooters hit the target, then they would have to shoot at the
contest lasted until all the losers dropped away, with the exception of the
three best shooters. The winners,
whose triumph was proclaimed by the judges, were issued certificates bearing
their names. The three winners
received, along with their prizes, exemption from paying rent and from all the
town obligations, with the exception of defense. In addition to such contests,
monthly competitions were organized; however, these were not for everyone, as
with the general inspection, but for volunteers only. The lord of the town would
set up three prizes from the prince's treasury for winners in this kind of
competition. The first winner would receive a musket, the second winner a
belsword, and the third winner would get a spear.
Prince Michael Casimir Radzivill
Rybenka introduced a similar custom in 1731 in Nesvizh.
Citing an ancient custom in many towns of Europe and of the Old Polish
Republic itself, Radzivill introduced yearly shooting contests in order to
prepare the townsmen for the defense of the town and the castle. These contests
were held at the beginning of summer on the third day of Whitsuntide holidays.
They were held in particularly solemn circumstances and in a place specially
provided for this purpose, behind the Benedictine Sisters Monastery.
The first shot was fired by the prince or a person designated by him. The
second shot was fired by the prince's wife or, with her permission, by someone
else. The third shot in sequence was fired by the governor of the Nesvizh
castle, and the fourth by the Nesvizh town head.
Then in sequence shots were
fired by the members of the town board and by all the inhabitants of Nesvizh who
had arrived at the contest with their weapons. The winner would be proclaimed
the best marksman for a period of one year and, after the closing of the
contest, he would receive in the Town Hall as a reward a velvet belt decorated
with silver escutcheons. Should the prince himself, (or his wife, or the
governor) win the first prize, he would give it up to an inhabitant of Nesvizh
freely chosen by him in his place, and that one would receive the title of the
best marksman. The award for the first shooter of Nesvizh was also an exemption
for a year from all the obligations to the lord of the town and to the town
board, as well as from taxes paid to the treasury of the Old Polish Republic.
Magnates the establishment of
prizes and exemptions for winners were not the only means of promotion of the
contests. In one of the ordinances of Boguslav Radzivill in the second half of
the 17th century, we read that the prince prohibited the shopkeepers
to make a profit of more than two pennies per pound of powder during its sale to
townsmen and town youths for use in the shooting practice. The town head set the
tax on the sale of powder.
Detachments of selected
recruited townsmen were more permanent military units. This kind of detachment
existed in Slutsk in the second half of the 18th century. The
town’s selected men in Slutsk existed on an equal basis with the selected
men's companies in the Slutsk garrison. They reported for duty voluntarily, and
were exempted from obligations to the town and to the magnate.
The town's selected men did not have to give up, at the same time, their
jobs in trade and crafts.
In the military census of
Slutsk, among the town's selected men we encounter a clothier, a hosier, a
furrier, a maltmaker, a butcher, and a coachman.
However, the majority consisted of the town’s poor; the unaffiliated
ones and demi-neighbors, often not having houses of their own. They devoted more
time than the militia members did to military training under the command of a
lieutenant, a professional soldier specially designated by the prince at a
motion of the town board. The
lieutenant commanding the town's selected men would receive his pay and uniform
from the town board. It was also the town board that paid for a drummer selected
from among the townsmen. The town’s selected men had their own scribe who
would prepare their lists. They also had an officer cadet and most probably, a
The number of the town's
selected men was not constant. In the seventies and eighties of the 17th
century they numbered over 100 men. In the record of a session of the municipal
board it was noted that the lieutenant of the selected men had been issued 82
muskets from the town weapons depository for distribution. At a session of 25
June 1680, the matter of purchasing 100 matchlock muskets for the town's
selected men was considered. The town board stated on 25 June 1682 that the
number of selected men from among the “unattached” townsmen had increased by
26 men and town muskets had been issued to them. Thus, there would be about 130
town's selected men in that period.
In the first half of the 18th
century the number of the town's selected men decreased rapidly. In 1728 there
were in Slutsk barely three such men. By this time the lord of the town was not
particularly interested in an influx of men from town to the formation of his
army. He had a sufficient number of soldiers from among petty menservants and
the privileged rural population related to them. Also, for economic reasons, it
was inconvenient for a magnate to draw the inhabitants to a town away from trade
Town militias in the course of
the 16th to 18th centuries existed only in those towns
that belonged to the magnates of Belorussia and Lithuania. The published data
concerning the king’s towns in Belorussia show that there was no such armed
force, for these places were related, above all, to the general social and
political system of the Old Polish Republic and not to Belorussian tradition.
With regard to organization,
town militias differed clearly both from the feudal army of the Old Polish
Republic (the Lithuanian and Crown armies) and from military formations in the
private armies of the magnates of Belorussia and Lithuania.
Under conditions of increasing
anarchy in the Old Polish Republic in the 17th and 18th
centuries the demands by the magnates of Belorussia and Lithuania for a military
force kept increasing. Therefore,
town militias were also summoned to take part in the defense of the magnates'
landholdings. Consequently, a private town was for a magnate not only a source
of income. The townsmen living in those towns came nearest to vassals of a sort,
free men to be sure, but men who were obliged to serve the magnate militarily.
The townsmen of Belorussian private towns, especially large ones, not only played a passive role of an auxiliary military force of the magnates' armies. They played an independent role as well. The magnates had to take them into account. And, primarily for this very reason, magnates in the second half of the 18th century seldom relied militarily on townsmen and other inhabitants of private towns. At the end of the 18th century, the role of town militias decreased, and the very organization of regiments and hundreds lost its military character and was transformed ultimately into administrative and fiscal units.
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