The Siberian “Soft Gold” Rush
(from Outreach World)
Land charter granted by Tsar Ivan IV to the Stroganov family, 1558
I, Tsar and Grand Prince of All Russia Ivan Vasilevich, have bestowed my favor upon Grigorii, son of
Anika Stroganov, [and] have allowed him to found a settlement in that uninhabited region eighty-eight versty
below Perm the Great along the Kama River … on the state forest land downstream on both banks of the
Kama to the Chusovaia River, wherever there is a strong and safe place; and I have ordered him to place
cannon and harquebuses in the settlement, and to install cannoneers, harquebusiers, and gate sentries for
protection against the [Tatars] and against other hordes, and to cut down the forest near that settlement
along the rivers and around the lakes and up to the sources [of the rivers], and to plow the land around that
settlement, and to establish homesteads, and to invite into that settlement such men as are not listed in the
registry books and who do not bear the tiaglo.
If any men should come to that settlement from our state or from other lands with money or with goods, to
buy salt or fish or other goods, these men shall be free to sell their goods here and to buy from them without
If any salt deposits should be found in this region, he shall establish salterns there and boil salt. And they
may catch fish in the rivers and lakes of this region without paying a tax. And if silver or copper or lead
deposits should be found anywhere, Grigorii shall straightway report to our treasurers about these deposits,
and he shall not work these deposits himself without our knowledge.
I have granted him [these] privileges for twenty years.
Tiaglo was a tax on townsmen registered in, and bound to, a particular town.
Wayne Dowler, “Russian Heritage: Land, People and Culture,” 1997, https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/RussianHeritage/10.
In the 1500s, the Tsar of Russia ruled a large European territory. To the east, across the Ural mountains, the
vast expanse now known as Siberia was controlled by “Khans,” descendants of the rulers of the Golden Horde
These Khans loosely ruled areas where numerous native tribes, both settled and nomadic, lived.
In the mid-1500s, in an effort to expand Russia’s territory, Tsar Ivan IV granted the Stroganov family the right to control trade across the Urals and to explore new lands. The Stroganovs set up outposts east of the Urals where they traded European goods to the natives in exchange for furs. While most exchanges were peaceful, relations with the native populations and the Khan were not always smooth, and in the 1580s the Stroganov family enlisted the aid of a band of Cossacks to protect their interests. Cossacks were loosely knit military groups with a mixed Slavic heritage.
These Cossacks, led by Yermak Timofeev, confronted the armies of the Khan of Sibir. With their superior
weapons, they defeated the Khan’s forces in 1582, opening Siberia to further exploration and exploitation. Bands of Cossacks built forts at strategic points as they plunged further into the wilderness. Tiumen was the first Russian town built in Siberia, in 1586. Forts were garrisoned and tribute (yasak), primarily sable pelts, was demanded of the natives. Refusal to pay tribute was cruelly punished, and family members were often taken as hostages to ensure that the natives did not resist.
Payment of yasak was not the only cause of assault upon the wildlife of Siberia. Promyshlenniki (traders, trappers, adventurers) also exploited the fur resources above and beyond the government quotas until the animal population was decimated. Explorers continued the march to the east in search of new territories and new sources of fur.
As forts were established, tradesmen and peasants followed, slowly colonizing the sparsely populated territory.
Orthodox priests followed as well, and churches sprang up in the wilderness. Most new towns were situated on
riverbanks, as rivers were the most reliable routes of transportation in that inhospitable land.
Just as the “gold rush” in America led prospectors west to California in the mid-1800s, so, too, in the 1600s
Russian frontiersmen spread east across Siberia in search of the “soft gold” of fur. By 1632, Cossack forces had
built a fort on the Lena river, and by 1649, had established a fort on the Pacific coast at Okhotsk, collecting furs
for Moscow along the way.
The Golden Horde was the collective name of the groups of rulers who divided the Mongolian empire after the death of Genghis
Khan. At its peak the Golden Horde’s territory included most of European Russia from the Urals to the Carpathian Mountains, ex-
tending east deep into Siberia. On the south the Horde’s lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the territories
of the Mongol dynasty known as the Il-Khans.