CHMIELNICKI, BOGDAN (c. 1593-1657), hetman of the Cossacks, son of Michael Chmielnicki, was born at Subatow, near Chigirin in the Ukraine, an estate given to the elder Chmielnicki for his lifelong services to the Polish crown. Bogdan, after learning to read and write, a rare accomplishment in those days, entered the Cossack ranks, was dangerously wounded and taken prisoner in his first battle against the Turks, and found leisure during his two years' captivity at Constantinople to acquire the rudiments of Turkish and French. On returning to the Ukraine he settled down quietly on his paternal estate, and in all probability history would never have known his name if the intolerable persecution of a neighbouring Polish squire, who stole his hayricks and flogged his infant son to death, had not converted the thrifty and acquisitive Cossack husbandman into one of the most striking and sinister figures of modern times. Failing to get redress nearer home, he determined to seek for justice at Warsaw, whither he had been summoned with other Cossack delegates to assist Wladislaus IV. in his long-projected war against the Turks. The king, perceiving him to be a man of some education and intelligence, appointed him pisarz or secretary of the registered Cossacks, and he subsequently served under Koniecpolski in the Ukraine campaign of 1646. His hopes of distinction were, however, cut short by a decree of the Polish diet, which, in order to vex the king, refused to sanction the continuance of the war. Chmielnicki, now doubly hateful to the Poles as being both a royalist and a Cossack, was again maltreated and chicaned, and only escaped from gaol by bribing his gaolers. Thirsting for vengeance, he fled to the Cossack settlements on the Lower Dnieper and thence sent messages to the khan of the Crimea, urging a simultaneous invasion of Poland by the Tatars and the Cossacks (1647).
On the 11th of April 1648, at an assembly of the Zaporozhians (see Poland: History), he openly declared his intention of proceeding against the Poles, and was elected ataman by acclamation. At Zheltnaya Vodui (Yellow Waters) in the Ukraine he annihilated, on the 19th of May, a detached Polish army corps after three days' desperate fighting, and on the 26th routed the main Polish army under the grand hetman, Stephen Potocki, at Kruta Balka (Hard Plank), near the river Korsun. The immediate consequence of these victories was the outbreak of a "serfs' fury." Throughout the Ukraine the Polish gentry were hunted down, flayed and burnt alive, blinded and sawn asunder. Every manor-house was reduced to ashes. Every Uniat and Catholic priest was hung up before his own altar, along with a Jew and a hog. The panic-stricken inhabitants fled to the nearest strongholds, and soon the rebels were swarming all over the palatinates of Volhynia and Podolia. But the ataman was as crafty as he was cruel. Disagreeably awakened to the insecurity of his position by the refusal of the tsar and the sultan to accept him as a vassal, he feigned to resume negotiations with the Poles in order to gain time, dismissed the Polish commissioners in the summer of 1648 with impossible conditions, and on the 23rd of September, after a contest of three days, utterly routed the Polish chivalry, 40,000 strong, at Pildawa, where the Cossacks are said to have reaped an immense booty after the fight was over. All Poland now lay at his feet, and the road to the defenceless capital was open before him; but he wasted the precious months in vain before the fortress of Zamosc, and was then persuaded by the new king of Poland, John Casimir, to consent to a suspension of hostilities. In June 1649, arrayed in cloth-of-gold and mounted on a white charger, Chmielnicki made his triumphal entry into Kiev, where he was hailed as the Maccabaeus of the Orthodox faith, and permitted the committal of unspeakable atrocities on the Jews and Roman Catholics. At the ensuing peace congress at Pereyaslavl he demanded terms so extravagant that the Polish commissioners dared not listen to them. In 1649, therefore, the war was resumed. A bloody battle ensued near Zborow, on the banks of the Strypa, when only the personal valour of the Polish king, the superiority of the Polish artillery, and the defection of Chmielnicki's allies the Tatars enabled the royal forces to hold their own. Peace was then patched up by the compact of Zborow (August 21, 1649), whereby Chmielnicki was virtually recognized as a semi-independent prince.
For the next eighteen months he was the absolute master of the Ukraine, which he divided into sixteen provinces, made his native place Chigirin the Cossack capital, and entered into direct relations with foreign powers. Poland and Muscovy competed for his alliance, and in his more exalted moods he meditated an Orthodox crusade against the Turk at the head of the northern Slavs. But he was no statesman, and his difficulties proved overwhelming. Instinct told him that his old ally the khan of the Crimea was unreliable, and that the tsar of Muscovy was his natural protector, yet he could not make up his mind to abandon the one or turn to the other. His attempt to carve a principality for his son out of Moldavia, which Poland regarded as her vassal, led to the outbreak in 1651 of a third war between subject and suzerain, which speedily assumed the dignity and the dimensions of a crusade. Chmielnicki was now regarded not merely as a Cossack rebel, but as the arch-enemy of Catholicism in eastern Europe, and the pope granted a plenary absolution to all who took up arms against him. But Bogdan himself was not without ecclesiastical sanction. The archbishop of Corinth girded him with a sword which had lain upon the Holy Sepulchre, and the metropolitan of Kiev absolved him from all his sins, without the usual preliminary of confession, before he rode forth to battle. But fortune, so long his friend, now deserted him, and at Beresteczko (July 1, 1651) the Cossack ataman was defeated for the first time. But even now his power was far from broken. In 1652 he openly interfered in the affairs of Transylvania and Walachia, and assumed the high-sounding title of "guardian of the Ottoman Porte." In 1653 Poland made a supreme effort, the diet voted 17,000,000 gulden in subsidies, and John Casimir led an army of 60,000 men into the Ukraine and defeated the arch-rebel at Zranta, whereupon Chmielnicki took the oath of allegiance to the tsar (compact of Pereyaslavl, February 19, 1654), and all hope of an independent Cossack state was at an end. He died on the 7th of August 1657. With all his native ability, Chmielnicki was but an eminent savage. He was the creature of every passing mood or whim, incapable of cool and steady judgment or of the slightest self-control - an incalculable weather-cock, blindly obsequious to every blast of passion. He could destroy, but he could not create, and other people benefited by his exploits.
See P. Kulish, On the Defection of Malo-Russia from Poland (Rus.) (Moscow, 1890); S.M. Solovev, History of Russia (Rus.) (Moscow, 1857, etc.), vol. x.; Robert Nisbet Bain, The First Romanovs, chaps. 3-4 (London, 1905).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)