The Don Cossacks | National Geographic in Russia

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National Geographic takes you behind the history of the Don Cossacks.

NARRATOR: Ask anyone, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Rostov-on-Don? Chances are it's Cossacks. Cossacks trace their origins to the 1400s. They started as groups of outlaws settling on the outskirts of the Russian Empire including the Rostov region along River Don.

They had their own laws, their own army, and answered to no authority except their own. And they soon became known as expert horsemen, and brilliant warriors, and started playing an important role in Russian military. They fought in every major war, served as border guards, and police, and even formed the elite special forces protecting the czar.

As mercenary soldiers, Cossacks have been known to fight on the wrong side of history. With the advent of communism, they themselves fell under repressions and are only now starting to reclaim their historical roots. Like Russia itself, the Cossacks history is complex, but the role they played in the history of Russia is undeniable.