Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Polish cowboys during early modern history

I have always been interested in the American West and the cowboys (the ones from Latin America, especially from Mexico where cowboys or vaqueros started on the American continent, being transplanted there from Spain), and while reading about their history often thought about our own Polish herdsmen that worked the cows, oxen and bulls from XIV century until mid XIX century.

Hence I have been doing some research, also using my favorite net forum for Polish history, and it appears that the trade in Polish Kingdom cattle and horses between Polish Kingdom and later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth  and the German Empire(Hapsburg possessions) and further German countries was quite huge at times.  The cows, oxen and later horses were herded along the so called ''Via Regia'' (Royal Road) that run  from Kiev in Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom through  Lviv, Cracow, Wroclaw(Silesia), Gorlitz, Leipzig, Erfurt, Frankfurt au Main all the way to  Santiago de Compostela in Spain (thus being nowadays  el Camino de Santiago).
Old Kievian city of Kiev but more importantly  Polish royal city of Lviv were connected with the Black Sea ports and with the old Silk Road that ended on there (the Silk Road was supplanted by the sea trade during the Age of Discoveries in XVI century); Lviv merchants conducted brisk trade with the Danube principalities, Moldavia and Transylvania, Crimean Khanate and the great empire of the Ottoman Turks.
There was also a branch that run across the Duchy of Lithuanian lands into the Rus republic of  Novgorod (until Ivan IV obliterated the republic), and the herds coming from there met in central Poland, perhaps near Sieradz to proceed to Cracow and then west.
We know that in the Borderlands of Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom the cattle herdsmen were called ''czabanowie'' (sing. ''czaban'') that were known for their wildness and half-barbaric state; many Tatars, fugitives  from the inside of Poland, Hungarians, Turks, Ruthenians and many others could have become these herdsmen.  Interestingly enough the cattle driving was so profitable that all levels of Polish-Lithuanian society were involved, from the richest magnates through the enterprising peasants.

The cattle they were herding and driving west was the long horned grey Podolian cow and perhaps the red Ruthenian/Polish cow, and also the grey cows of the Hungarians. More about them in the future.

Grey Podolian oxen was the most demanded type of the cattle, and during XVI and early XVII centuries every year some 40,000 oxen were herded and driven across Polish borders into Silesia, south into Bohemia  and west to the German countries.
I should mention that horse trade was also brisk but trading in horses, especially stallions and geldings, was regulated in XVI through XVII centuries, but in XVIII century Poland supplied countless horses to all armies of Continental Europe.
This cattle and horse trade along Via Regia ceased in 1840s, when the construction of transcontinental rail system made the cattle driving obsolete.

I sketched this horseman after a painting by Jozef Brandt. I  imagined that our Polish 'czaban' or cowboy was armed with a lance since it was a very useful tool to be used from the saddle to prod the oxen and cows along; we should not forget that also our  Polish cavalry was very skilled with lance and even earlier the Tatars and other nomads of the steppe used lances and wooden poles from horseback to prod cattle (and a lasso to capture horses and smaller cattle), while in Spain the doma vaquera used (and still uses) lances to help herding cattle. In Mexico, when cattle herding was introduced in XVI century the vaqueros did herding and driving  using  a long lance.
Although we also know that the Hungarian cowboy or ''Csikós'' also used extensively a large whip along with a lasso, so perhaps our  czaban used many other instruments of control.

Well, this is the very beginning of my research into this subject and I shall come back with some more findings as my research will progress.


abdul666 said...

Very interesting.
Looking forward for details about the cattle -probably rather 'wild' looking?

Dario T. W. said...

Wild it was, this cattle, auroch-like, and the herdsmen, czabanowie, that drove them from Ukraine even more wild looking :) .
It should be an interesting research, but I have to get many books and articles from Polish libraries and that takes time. Thanks for your interest