In the late 1500s, the Stroganovs, a wealthy and powerful Russian family, began sponsoring forays into Siberia, hoping to profit from the mineral and natural wealth of the land. One of these expeditions was led by the Cossack Vasily “Yermak” Timofeyovich, whose cognomen came from the word for millstone. Yermak and his band received material support from the Stroganovs, who insisted that the assistance was not a gift, but a loan, and wished to specify the terms of its repayment.
The Stroganovs at first wished for the loan to be secured by indentures, but Yermak and the other Cossacks rejected this. Instead, they promised to repay the Stroganovs through the spoils of war, if they were successful in their attack. If they failed and died, however, Yermark sarcastically promised to instead repay the loan by praying on the Stroganovs’ behalf once the Cossacks reached heaven.