You Babylonian scullion
With a reading by Olivia Colman & Adrian Edmondson
The following letters are very rude! Consider yourself warned. Please also be aware that this exchange can be found in the book, Letters of Note: War.
The Zaporozhian Cossacks were a fierce army of warriors based in what were once known as the Wild Fields of Ukraine. Legend has it1 that in 1675, they received by courier a letter from Mehmed IV, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in which he grandiosely demanded that they cease all aggression and submit to him. Relations were historically fraught, but a recent spate of guerrilla warfare involving the two parties, much of it won by the Cossacks, had pushed the young sultan to breaking point. And then he wrote a letter. Rather than accept those demands, the leader of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, Ivan Sirko, responded with a letter of his own, co-written with his men—in the 1880s, this side of the exchange was immortalised in the famous painting seen above: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, by renowned Russian artist Ilya Repin.
Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians—I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV
Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself! What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats it. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we’ve no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother.
You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, butcher’s dog, unchristened brow, screw your own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with all the Zaporozhian Host
The originals have never been found and the oldest surviving copy of this exchange dates back to the 18th century. Regardless, Ukrainians have fully embraced this story and on occasion recreate Repin’s painting in order to send a message.