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Alena Arzamasskaya - Russian Jeanne d'Arc

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Alena Arzamasskaya

The gallery of bright and famous Russian women should include Alena Arzamasskaya (Temnikovskaia) or hetman Alena. She was a comrade and sister-in-arms of Stenka Razin, a Cossack leader who led a major uprising against the nobility and Tsar's bureaucracy in South Russia. A Russian Jeanne d'Arc of the "rebellious" 17th century of Russian history.

Alena was born in a peasant family in a village in Volga region. Usually the names of peasant women rebels are not recorded in the sources, but Alena Arzamasskaia is an exception. She was forcibly married at the very early age to a peasant of the same area. Her husband however soon died and Alena took vows as a nun at Nikolaevskii Monastery on the Volga. There she learnt reading and writing and medicine. However she chafed at the rules of convent life finding it to be as unjust as the secular world.

In 1669 when the peasant uprising under Stepan Razin burst out, Alena ran away from the convent hoping to join the Cossack army. She cut her hair and dressed in men's clothes posing as a Cossack leader. In that guise she gathered a detachment of two hundred men that rapidly grew to six thousand. Meanwhile the rebellion had been spreading taking over numerous cities in southern Russia.

Alena's detachment succeeded in conquering the fortified city of Temnikov. Alena occupied the former residence of the Temnikov military governor and effectively ruled the city for more then two months. The local Cossack encampment chose her as their leader.

Within her own detachment Alena earned a recognition of an excellent archer. She commanded great authority due to her intelligent and self-control, accurate marksmanship and medical knowledge.

When the tsar's army launched their campaign against the rebels on the Volga, Alena chose to stay and fight. She was taken captive in 1670 and was tortured in an attempt to get her reveal the names of rebel leaders. She refused to do so and was convicted of brigandage, of dressing and a man and unauthorized departure form the monastery. Alena was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

In addition to the judicial records of Alena's activities, folk songs recall her as a heroine who defended the interests of the poor.


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