While reading The Russian City between Tradition and Modernity, 1850-1900 (bless UCal Press and its free online books!), I ran across the following sentence in Chapter 3: “One of Chicherin’s supporters, angry at the refusal of the duma to vote a protest motion after the mayor’s resignation, blamed the petty bourgeois ‘black hundreds’ (that is, reactionaries) of the third curia for this failure”; the footnote attributed the quote to S. A. Muromtsev, “Moskovskaia duma,” Vestnik Evropy (February 1885). This astonished me, because I had never before seen any indication that the term (черносотенцы, chernosotentsy, in Russian) predated the twentieth century. Walter Laqueur, in his book Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia, says “A Russian conservative-nationalist party in Russia emerged only around the turn of the last century… [Earlier such groups] did not amount to much… This changed only with the appearance of the ‘Black Hundred’ at the time of tsarism’s acute crisis in 1904-1905.” Does anybody have any information that might explain Muromtsev’s use twenty years earlier?
Addendum. Roman, in the comments below, kindly directed my attention to this article by V.V. Vinogradov, which outlines the history of the phrase. In early Russia one meaning of chernyi ‘black’ was ‘subject to taxation’; hence, for example, a chernaya sloboda was a settlement not exempt from taxation. A sotnya was originally a military group of a hundred men, but the word was later applied to various groups, in this context taxpaying shopkeepers and other small businessmen. By the nineteenth century the term had gone out of use, but it was revived in the latter half of the century as an ironic name for the more conservative of the “petty bourgeois” members of municipal legislatures, who were seen as obstructing progressive measures. From there it was an easy step to apply it to the most reactionary elements, the type who were likely to participate in or support pogroms; this had taken place by the beginning of the twentieth century. Muromtsev, therefore, was using it in the earlier (obstructionist) sense. Thanks, Roman!


  1. I have never seen this usage before, but Vadim Kozhinov in “Черносотенцы” и революция suggests that the term predates being applied to the early 20th century.
    To quote a few of the passages from the work,
    “…Еще в 1907 году известнейший “Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза-Эфрона” (2-й дополнительный том) “заложил основы” именно такого словоупотребления
    “Черная сотня – ходячее название, которое в последнее время стало применяться к подонкам населения…” (which to me strongly implies that before that the term was in use but applied to something or someone else)
    “…Нижегородская черная сотня, собравшаяся вокруг Минина, спасла Москву и всю Россию от поляков и русских изменников…” (Again, it’s news to me that the term was used for Minin’s volunteer militia, but if it was, it would certainly make for a significantly earlier example).

  2. Thanks, both of you! Roman, that’s a great site — I’ll add an addendum to the post.

  3. LeiaCat, I wouldn’t trust explanations of the term cheornaya sotnya by chernosotenets.

  4. Tatyana, good point.

  5. Rostyslaw Lewyckyj says

    In Ukrainian the term Чернець/Чернці is used to refer to monks (deriving from their black cassocks). The term Чернь is archaic, used to refer to the common people (the black masses). Since black is also associated with evil it could and did get associated as the adjective and then a part of the name for “black hundreds” , similar to groups such as “the black hand”.

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