(Tseikhgauz 19, No. 3/2002. Pages 22-25.)                                    In commemoration of 200 years of the Department of Internal Affairs.


Under the Halberd;
The Uniform of Municipal Police Commands in Pre-Reform Russia.

By Sergei Popov.


At the beginning of the 19th century, municipal public order and decorum (what in Russia was called blagochinie) was maintained mostly by state provincial companies [shtatnyya gubernskiya roty] and district commands [uezdnyya komandy], and partly by garrison units. Actual military police detachments existed only in the largest cities. Thus, according to regulation organization tables of 1798-99, the St.-Petersburg Military Command included, alongside the usual officials, a military detachment of 308 mounted lower ranks (dragoons) and 275 lower ranks on foot, plus 22 officers and 51 police non-commissioned officers. In Moscow there were 560 mounted and 500 dismounted lower ranks, 20 officers, and 60 policemen (Note 1). To a significant degree, the responsibility for preserving the peace, especially in the provinces, lay on the shoulders of the local inhabitants. Thus, in "A Model Table of Organization for Town Police Established in the Provinces" from 1799 (Note 2), it was indicated that "nakhtvertery" [men of the night guard, from German 'Nachtwärter'-M.C.] were to be provided by house owners."

In 1802 General-Adjutant Ye.F. Komarovskii was named chief of the St.-Petersburg police. He later recalled:

From the reports I received I saw that many guard posts had no watchmen [budochniki], and this greatly surprised me. I inquired as to the reason… The borough wardens [chastnye pristavy] answered that the local inhabitants sent willing persons from their own apartment blocks to be watchmen, but those who did not wish to actually send someone were allowed to contribute nine roubles a month. But for that sum there was absolutely no chance of hiring anyone who would agree to stand on guard without relief, especially in freezing temperatures (at that time there were no stoves in the sentry boxes [budki] of the guard posts… I sent a memorandum to the sovereign concerning the state of the police as it was at that time, and reporting that in addition to many sentry boxes having no watchmen in them, when there was a fire the watchmen walked through the streets twirling alarm rattles and calling out from the apartment blocks the persons assigned by the building owners for that duty, which was very inefficient. Also, the police dragoon detachment was scattered among the boroughs and only under an energetic warder would they be in good order. His Majesty, upon reading my memorandum, was surprised and said, 'How is it that the police here are in such a state and no one has told me about it until now?' He thanked me for my assessment and ordered me to submit my thoughts in regard to improving the police. My scheme consisted of not having homeowners send persons for police duties, but to pay 9 roubles a month each, which according to my preliminary information all homeowners would agree to. For watchmen and firemen I proposed sending from army regiments personnel who were less fit for frontline duties, who at that time were usually sent to garrison regiments in which they did not perform any useful service. By combining the sum of money collected from homeowners with the salaries and rations authorized by regulation, it would be possible to improve the condition of every policeman. For uniformity, the dragoon police detachments would have to be brought together in one command under a proven field-grade officer. The sovereign was pleased to approve my plans in all respects." (Note 3)

An imperial ukase of 29 November 1802 authorized the establishment of a special force for putting out fires as well as for maintaining the night watch, "forming this command from soldiers unfit for frontline service."(Note 4) The force consisted of 1602 men of which 777 were watchmen or, as they were officially called, city guards [gradskie strazhi] (three for each of 777 police sentry boxes in the capital). For uniform clothing city guards and firemen were prescribed a jacket [kurtka], sash [kushak], cap [kartuz], pants [sharovary], and a greatcoat [shinel'] of dark-gray cloth with each button being covered [obtyazhnaya]. After 18 months an identical force was established for Moscow (Note 5). Beginning in 1803 military police commands were created in other Russian cities. Personnel for them were prescribed to be "taken on specifically for police duties" from state companies and commands (dragoons as well as foot) "with pay and allowances in accouterments and provisions from city revenues as for personnel in provincial companies."(Note 6) In cossack districts the police commands were made up of cossacks. Apparently, the formation of police forces received an additional stimulus in 1811 when the state companies and commands were withdrawn from local administration and used to help form the Internal Guard [Vnutrennyaya strazha]. In 1817 dragoon police commands were also transferred to the Internal Guard (to form gendarme squadrons and commands [zhandarmskie diviziony i komandy]), and only the military foot subunits remained as town police.

The lower ranks of police commands in a medium-sized Russian town were usually divided into two categories: deployable [rassyl'nye], also called guard-duty [karaul'nye], and watchmen [storozhevye]. The first were distributed among the police precincts and formed a kind of mobile police reserve, used for guard mounts for government establishments and other municipal sites and sent out in detachments in case of any disturbances. The second-the watchmen called "city guards"-served in the permanently manned police sentry boxes established in the more important (in a law and order sense) city locations. Usually each sentry box had three watchmen relieving each other in shifts. Direct control of the men in the sentry boxes was exercised by town non-commissioned officers. Deployable police as well as the watchmen were taken on from army soldiers who were "unfit", retired, or on permanent leave.

At the beginning of the 19th century a police sentry box still fully justified its name but by the era of Nicholas I it had become a rather sophisticated piece of architectural design. It began to appear as a kind of one-story house with doors and windows, heated by a stove. Watchmen usually lived in their sentry boxes, sometimes even with their families. The structures indicated their government status only in their standard black-white (with orange lining) paint, "fir-tree fashion" ["v yelochku"], and by the figure of the town watchman with his characteristic halberd. Such a scene became a distinctive postcard for every Russian city from the 1830s to '50s. Several "model" St.-Petersburg sentry boxes even merited a visit by Emperor Nicholas I.

Police precincts also included fire-fighting commands that along with the firemen proper had drivers [furleity] "for fire engines," lamplighters [fonarshchiki], and chimneysweeps [trubochisty]. In addition to their main duty, firemen also carried out corporal punishments. As directed by the authorities, as well as by request from serf owners, they beat with switches lower-class persons who had been sentenced to this. Fire-fighting posts were constructed and maintained just like the sentry boxes. Every police and fire-fighting sentry box was prescribed a set of warm clothing: sheepskin coat [ovchinnyi tulup] covered with gray cloth, and leather and fur ken'gi (a kind of galoshes worn over boots), as well as the halberd already mentioned.

For the whole first half of the 19th century the manning and clothing of police commands were regulated by individual authorization tables for city police forces. Therefore the uniforms for lower ranks in different towns varied slightly from each other. Overall, however, they followed a single pattern. The tailcoat for lower-rank policemen was of the style for infantry soldiers. As a rule, it was gray in color-more rarely dark green (in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and some other cities). Winter pants were of wool cloth (usually gray or the same color as the coat) while summer pants were of Flemish linen or ravensduck. At first the coat was double-breasted with six flat brass (sometimes covered) buttons (from the 1830's the buttons became convex, with the provincial coat-of-arms). As a rule, trim on the coat (collar, cuffs, shoulder straps, skirt turnbacks) followed the facing color for provincial nobles' coats. Thus, according to an 1806 authorization table (Note 7) the Moscow foot command had a dark-green caftan, red collar, cuffs, and shoulder straps, with "pale" [palevyi] pants and skirt turnbacks. In 1831, the lower ranks of the Simbirsk police were prescribed grey coats with covered buttons, and light-green collars, shoulder straps, and cuffs (Note 8). The uniforms for firemen differed from those for police in that instead of coats they wore gray jackets without tail skirts. The lamplighters who were part of the police force wore the same uniform but entirely in gray without colored trim.

From the beginning of the 1830's, after a single uniform coat was established for nobles of all provinces, the predominant facing color for police commands was red. However, in firefighting commands dark-blue collars, cuffs, and shoulder straps were introduced. For both, shoulder straps had the cut-out number of the precinct or post.

The parade headdress was a dark-green or gray cap [furazhka] with a band the same color as the collar, with a visor, chinstrap, and earflaps for winter. Onto the cap was affixed a brass badge with the abbreviation for police. A special pattern cap was used in the 1830s and '40s in the St.-Petersburg Police Command. It had a high crown with a lacquered leather top, slightly sloping back. Since its shape resembled that of the kiver shako, it was called a "kiver hat" [kivernaya shapka]. Similar hats were adopted for police forces of some other cities as well as for lower ranks of the Forest Guard.

Town non-commissioned officers were distinguished from privates by gold galloon on the coat's collar and cuffs, and also by narrow galloon sewn around the cap band. They were authorized chamois gloves and a short sword [tesak] with a black sword belt and buckle. Firemen non-commissioned officers, usually called unter-brandmeistery, did not have swords, and their galloon was often prescribed to be silver. From the middle of the 1840's rank distinction for lower ranks was by means of stripes, called "lychki," on the shoulder straps. Because police commands were manned by retired or "unfit" lower-rank soldiers, most of the them had long-service chevrons on the left sleeve. From 1833 in St. Petersburg and later in other police commands personnel had the right to sewn on subsequent chevrons in addition to those already earned, one for every five years.

By the middle of the century uniforms for lower police ranks in the larger cities could be seen to have the following distinctions: deployable policemen [rassyl'nye] began to receive dark-green coats while men in the sentry boxes got gray ones, both kinds with red collars. Spiked helmets began to be introduced for deployable police, as in the army, but topped with a ball instead of a grenade flame and with a provincial or municipal coat-of-arms instead of the two-headed eagle. Firemen also acquired helmets: brass, of the subsequently well-known form, with a small comb and local coat-of-arms. On 2 September 1853, the foot component of the St.-Petersburg police was given a dark-green coat with a scarlet (guards cloth) collar and skirt turnbacks, and similar scarlet piping down the front, on the shoulder straps, cuffs, and pants, and for the numbering on the shoulder straps. Buttons, galloon, and helmet fittings for this force were prescribed to be of white metal (Note 9). The same uniform was established for the Moscow police on 2 September 1853, but with yellow metallic appointments and without piping on the pants (Note 10).

On 23 June 1853 a universal standard organization was finally confirmed for town police commands as well as a table for their uniform clothing and accouterments (Note 11). In towns of up to 2000 inhabitants there was to be a command numbering 5 privates; for between 2000 and 5000 inhabitants-1 junior non-commissioned officer and 9 privates; 5000-10,000 inhabitants-2 junior non-commissioned officers and 18 privates; 10,000-15,000 inhabitants-1 senior and 2 junior non-commissioned officers and 27 privates; 15,000-20,000 inhabitants-2 senior and 2 junior non-commissioned officers and 36 privates; 20,000-25,000 inhabitants-2 senior and 3 junior non-commissioned officers and 45 privates; 25,000-30,000 inhabitants-3 senior and 5 junior non-commissioned officers and 52 privates. Using this as a basis, organization tables were to be drawn up for every town "taking into account, however, local circumstances."

Detachments of deployable police were prescribed a lacquered leather helmet with brass fittings, town coat-of-arms, chin scales, and a ball on a spike. A fatigue cap [rabochaya furazhka]-dark green with a red band and piping-was to be sewn out of old coats. The coat was to be dark green, single breasted, with a red collar and skirt turnbacks. Shoulder straps, cuffs, and "the flaps on them" were to be the same color as the coat, piped red. The same piping was along the front of the coat. Nineteen brass buttons with the town coat-of-arms were prescribed for the coat. On the shoulder straps the number of the police unit showed as a red cut-out. Non-commissioned officers were authorized gold galloon on the collar and cuffs of the coat, as well as chamois gloves. All deployable police were armed with short swords carried on blackened shoulder belts 4-1/2 inches wide [2,5 vershka].

Coats for watchmen were of the same pattern but gray with red collars, shoulder straps, and cuff flaps; the number on the shoulder straps was yellow. The parade headdress was a dark-green forage cap with a red band, visor, and a brass badge on the crown on which was stamped: "of such-and-such Town Police" ["takoi-to Gorodskoi Politsii"] (usually abbreviated.) Town non-commissioned officers, in addition to galloon on the coat, were also prescribed narrow gold galloon on the band of the parade forage cap. The fatigue forage cap was grey with a red band. The short sword, as well as gloves, was only authorized for non-commissioned officers.

In towns in which the police command numbered 15 men or less, the policemen that were deployable and those on duty in sentry boxes both wore the same uniform-that of watchmen.

For firefighting commands there were established the same coats as for watchmen but with dark-blue collars, shoulder straps, and cuff flaps, and on the shoulder straps a red number of their post. The headdress was a brass fireman's helmet with the town coat-of-arms stamped on the front, or a gray fatigue forage cap with a dark-blue band. Unter-brandmeistery wore gold non-commissioned officer's galloon on the coat and had chamois gloves but no short sword. All firemen were prescribed a grey fatigue jacket with shoulder straps and buttons as on the dress coat and dark-blue tabs [petlitsy] on the collar, and a black waist belt with brass buckle.

In both police and firefighting commands greatcoats were gray with collars, shoulder straps, and buttons as on the dress coat. Pants were the same color as the coat (but white linen in summer); short boots were blackened. For cold weather sheepskin half-coats [ovchinnye polushubki] were issued, and privates were authorized mittens sewn from old uniforms. Every police station and firefighting post (sentry box) had a sheepskin coat [tulup] with a gray cloth cover, ken'gi galoshes, and a halberd.

The police uniform as described went unchanged in its general outline for several decades. True, in 1855 "frock" ["frachnye"] tailcoats were replaced by double-breasted tunics [polukaftany, "half-caftans"] with collars rounded in front. City watchmen and town non-commissioned officers, at first in St. Petersburg and then apparently in other cities, were given helmets as for the deployable police (Note 12). In 1856 the halberd was at last withdrawn, having long before become an anachronism that startled visiting Europeans, but in this way outlasting by a little over 40 years the ones that had been used in the army. In their place, policemen in sentry boxes were armed with short swords.

At the end of 1862 there was a general reform of the Russian police. Town watchmen disappeared along with their striped sentry boxes, and the word "gorodovoi" no longer meant a town policeman. In 1863 the reformed police received a new uniform.

* * *

In our article we consciously did not treat the uniforms of classed police officials and officers, which is to say police chiefs [politsmeistery], town commandants [gorodnichie], police wardens [pristavy], ward police officers [kvartal'nye], and fire chiefs [brandmeistery]. This would be a separate, little researched, but no less interesting subject. Interesting-even if policemen did not normally take part in wars or battles, and historically they played a reactionary role more often than a progressive one. Truly, a uniformologist's interest does not necessarily have to be limited to guards tailcoats and the uniforms of "elite" troops, as our friends from other magazines might think. The uniforms of postal carriers and sentry-box watchmen, transport workers and foresters, are all also worthy of study, if only because so little is known of them. They are also a part of our history.



1) Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov-I [Complete Collection of Laws, 1st Compilation, hereafter PSZ-I], Nos. 18663, 18822. In the authorization table of 1802 (PSZ-I, No. 20143) lower ranks of the Moscow police are already shown at almost half this strength.
2) PSZ-I, No. 18985.
3) Komarovskii, Ye.F. Zapiski. Moscow, 1990. Pages 78-80.
4) PSZ-I, No. 20532.
5) PSZ-I, No. 21322 (31 May 1804).
6) PSZ-I, No. 20660.
7) PSZ-I, No. 22030.
8) PSZ-II, No. 4802.
9) PSZ-II, No. 26539.
10) PSZ-II, No. 27537.
11) PSZ-II, No. 27372.
12) PSZ-II, No. 29303.



Page 22. St.-Petersburg Postal carrier [Pochtalion] and Town Watchman [Gradskoi strazh], from the journal Volshebnyi fonar' [The Magic Latern], 1817.

Page 23. St.-Petersburg sentry box watchmen [budochniki], from a lithograph after a drawing by A.O. Orlovskii, 1820's (left); from a drawing by N.G. Chernetsov, 1823 (right).

Page 24. Uniforms of town police and firefighting commands, 1853-1855. The appearance of certain elements (e.g. the pattern of the badge on the forage caps, the cut of the cuffs) is not entirely certain. N.B. The chevrons on the sleeves do not denote rank, but years of service.
1. Non-commissioned officer of deployable police. 2. Private of deployable police. 3. Town non-commissioned officer. 4. Town watchman. 5. Unter-brandmeister. 6. Fireman private. 7. Lamplighter.

Page 25. Unter-brandmeister, corporal [yefreitor], and private of firefighting commands [pozharnye komandy], 1853; lamplighter, 1852. (Drawings from the album S.-Peterburgskaya Stolichnaya politsiya i gradonachal'stvo. Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk. St. Petersburg, 1903.)


[Translated by Mark Conrad, 2004.]