In Russia, Cossacks were among the greatest military assets. They were members of various groups living in northern hinterlands of the Black and Caspian seas that had a tradition of independence. They traded their military service for privileges from the government. Cossacks formed their ranks based on societal connections
In the 15th and 16 centuries, the free Cossacks lived and raided beyond the settlements and frontiers and were expert horsemen. Some were hired as guides and patrols for caravans traveling dangerous routes. Their mobility gave them the advantage in the wild lands. The town Cossacks were hired as warriors and protectors of frontier towns. Often these men were farmer-soldiers for their commanders while living with their own families.
In the mid-16th century, Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich publicly acknowledged the free Cossacks of the Don region. These Don Cossacks organized themselves into capable military units and set up fortified camps along the river banks. These gave them strategic advantages and guarded the passage to the Black Sea. By the end of the 17th century, the Don Cossacks gradually became Russianized. Their martial aptitude and willingness to fight helped expand the Russian Empire. They participated in military campaigns and captured the Ottoman fortress of Azov. The Cossack horsemen mounted raids against the French at the Battle of Borodino during the Napoleonic Wars resulting in Napoleon losing over 300,000 men and Russian victory.
During the Russian Civil War, Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict. Some fought for the White Army and others the Red Army. Following the defeat of the White Army, the surviving Cossacks had their territory divided and a repression policy was put in place in order to eliminate them as a separate entity. Hundreds of thousands of Cossacks were killed and persecuted under this policy.
During World War II, the Cossacks were on both sides yet again. Most fought for the Soviet Union but others collaborated with the Germans. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cossack communities emerged all over Russia. The Cossack culture was almost lost from the centuries of wars until President Boris Yeltsin decreed for its revival in the 1990s.
The De Carlini Russian Cossack Christmas Ornament is decorated in a black papakha, black trousers and red cherkeska.