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Hetman's coat of arms.

Hetman was the title of the second highest military commander (after the monarch) used in 15th to 18th century Polandmarker, Ukrainemarker and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, known from 1569 to 1795 as the Rzeczpospolita.

This title was used among the Cossacks (гетьман) of Ukrainemarker since the 16th century and by the Czechs (hejtman) in Bohemia from the Hussite Wars (15th century) onward. Hejtman is today the term for the elected governor of a Czech region (kraj). Hetman is also the Polish name for the chess queen.


One theory is the word is probably derived from the Old High German Hauptmann, with Haupt meaning "main" or "head" and Mann meaning "man". Hauptmann was a common military title during medieval times meaning "captain" but corresponds more to today's "general". The German "Hauptmann" deriving from the Polish "Hetman/Hatman" is less likely. The more accepted theory is it derives from the steppic/Turkic term "otaman". Due to centuries of contact, Polish and Prussian states were influenced by each other's military traditions (see Rittmeister/rotmistrz) and administrations (Rathaus/ratusz, Bürgermeister/burmistrz), or the fact that almost 70% of Prussian generals and commanders were foreign, and the majority of these Polish, though many changed their names to more German sounding names . The entire Prussian cavalry, as well as most of Europe's, was based on Polish, Serbian and Hungarian traditions, and most cavalry were from these countries . However, an intermediation might have been provided in Czech

Hetman of Poland and Lithuania

The first Polish title of Grand Crown Hetman was created in 1505. The title of Hetman was given to the leader of the Polish Army and until 1581 the Hetman position existed only during specific campaigns and wars. After that, it became a permanent title, as were all the titles in the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At any given time there were four Hetmans – Great and Field (deputy) for Poland and Lithuania each. From 1585 the title couldn't be taken away unless treachery was proven, thus most Hetmen served for life, as illustrated by the case of Jan Karol Chodkiewicz literally commanding the army from his deathbed. Hetmen were not paid for their job by the Royal Treasury. Hetmen were the main commanders of the military forces, second only to the monarch in the army's chain of command. The fact that they could not be removed by the monarch made them very independent, and thus often able to pursue independent policies. This system worked well when a Hetman had great ability and the monarch was weak, but sometimes produced disastrous results in the opposite case, as illustrated by the actions of Mikołaj Potocki in 1648. The contrast with states bordering the Commonwealth, where army commanders could be dismissed at any time by their sovereigns, was immense.

The reform in 1776 limited the powers of the Hetmen. The Hetman office was abolished after the third partition of Poland in 1795.

Hetmans of Ukraine

At the end of the sixteenth century, the commanders of the Zaporizhian Cossacks were called Koshovyi Otaman or Hetmen ( for example: Christof Kosynsky - first zaporizhian hetman ). In 1572, the hetman was a commander of the Registered Cossack Army ( ) of the Rzecz Pospolita too. From 1648, the start of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's uprising, a hetman was the head of the whole Ukrainian State - Hetmanshchyna. Although they were elected, Ukrainian Hetmen had very broad powers and acted as heads of the Cossack statemarker, their supreme military commanders, and top legislators (by issuing administrative decrees).

After the split of Ukrainemarker along the Dnieper River by the 1667 Polishmarker-Russianmarker Treaty of Andrusovo, Ukrainian Cossacks (and Cossack Hetmans) became known as Left-bank Cossacks (of the Cossack Hetmanatemarker) and Right-bank Cossacks.

In the Russian Empire, the office of Cossack Hetman was abolished by Catherine II of Russia in 1764. The last Hetman of the Zaporozhian Army (the formal title of the Hetman of Ukraine) was Kyrylo Rozumovsky who reigned from 1751 until 1764.

The title was revived in Ukraine during the revolution of 1917 to 1920. In early 1918, a conservative German-supported coup overthrew the radical socialist Ukrainian Central Rada and its Ukrainian People's Republicmarker, establishing a "Hetmanate" or monarchy headed by Pavlo Skoropadsky who claimed the title "Hetman of Ukraine". This regime lasted until late 1918 when it was overthrown by a new "Directory" of the re-established Ukrainian People's Republic.


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