POLTAVA, a government of south-western Russia, bounded by the government of Chernigov on the N., Kharkov on the E., Ekaterinoslav and Kherson on the S., and Kiev on the W., and having an area of 19,260 sq. m. Its surface is an undulating plain 500 to 600 ft. above sea-level, with a few elevations reaching 670 ft. in the north, and gently sloping to 300 and 400 ft. in the south-west. Owing to the deep excavations of the rivers, their banks, especially those on the right, have the aspect, of hilly tracts, while low plains stretch to the left. Almost the whole of the surface consists of Tertiary deposits; Cretaceous rocks appear in the north-east, at the bottom of the deeper ravines. The government touches the granitic region of the Dnieper only in the south, below Kremenchug. Limestone with dolerite veins occurs in the isolated hill of Isachek, which rises above the marshes of the Sula. The whole is covered with a layer, 20 to 60 ft. thick, of boulder clay, which again is often mantled with a thick sheet of loess. Sandstone (sometimes suitable for grindstones) and limestone are quarried, and a few beds of gypsum and peat-bog are known within the government. With the exception of some sandy tracts, the soil is on the whole very fertile. Poltava is drained by the Dnieperi which iiows along its border, navigable throughout, and by its tributaries the Sula, Psiol, Vorskla, Orel, Trubezh, and several others, none of them navigable, although their courses vary from 150 to 270 m. each in length. Even those which used to be navigated within the historical period, such as the Trubezh and Supoi, are now drying up, while the others are being partially transformed into marshes. Deep sand-beds intersected by numberless ravines and old arms of the river stretch along the left bank of the Dnieper, where accordingly the settlements are few. Only 5% of the total area is under forest; timber, wooden wares, and pitch are imported.
The estimated population in 1906 was 3,312,400. The great majority are Little Russians. Agriculture is the principal pursuit, 60% of the total area being arable land. The crops chiefly grown are wheat, rye and oats; the sunflower is largely cultivated, especially for oil, and the growing of tobacco, always important, has made a great advance. Kitchen gardening, the cultivation of the plum, and the preparation of preserved fruits are important branches of industry. At Lubny, where an apothecaries' garden is maintained by the Crown, the collection and cultivation of medicinal plants are a speciality. The main source of wealth in Poltava always has been, and still is, its live-stock breeding-horses, cattle, sheep, pigs. Some of the wealthier landowners and many peasants rear finer breeds of horses. The land is chiefly owned by the peasants, who possess 52% of the cultivable area; 42% belongs to private persons, and the remainder to the Crown, the clergy, and the municipalities.
Among the manufactures distilleries hold the leading place, after which come flour-mills, tobacco factories, machine-making, tanneries, saw-mills, sugar-works and woollen manufactures. In the villages and towns several domestic trades are carried on, such as the preparation of sheepskins, plain woollen cloth, leather, boots andipottery. The fair of Poltava is of great importance for the whole woollen trade of Russia, and leather, cattle, horses, coarse woollen cloth, skins, and various domestic wares are exchanged for manufactures imported from Great Russia. The value of merchandise brought to the fair averages over £2,500,000. Several other fairs, the aggregate returns for which reach more than one-half of the above, are held at Romny (tobacco), Kremenchug (timber, corn, tallow and salt), and Kobelyaki (sheepskins). Corn is exported to a considerable extent to the west and to Odessa, as also saltpetre, spirits, Wool, tallow, skins and woollen cloth. The Dnieper is the principal artery for the exports and for the import-timber. The chief river-ports are Kremenchug and Poltava. Steamers ply between Kiev and Ekaterinoslav; but the navigation is hampered by want of water and becomes active only in the south. Traffic mostly follows the railway. Poltava is divided into fifteen districts, of which the chief towns are Poltava, Gadyach, ,Khor0l, ,Kobelyaki, Konstantinograd, Kremenchug, Lokhvitsa, Lubny, Mirgorod, Pereyaslavl, Piryatin, Priluki, Romny, Zenkov and Zolotonosha.
History.—At the dawn of Russian history the region now occupied by Poltava was inhabited by the Slav tribe of the Syeveryanes. As early as 988 the Russians erected several towns on the Sula and the Trubezh for their protection against the Turkish Petchenegs and Polovtsi, who held the south-eastern steppes. Population extended, and the towns of Pereyaslavl, Lubny, Priluki, Piryatin, Romny, begin to be mentioned in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Mongol invasion of 1239e42 destroyed most of them, and for two centuries afterwards they disappear from Russian annals. About 1331 Gedimin, prince of Lithuania, annexed the so-called “ Syeveisk towns ” and on the recognition of the union of Lithuania with Poland they were included in the united kingdom along with the remainder of Little Russia. In 1476 a separate principality of Kiev under Polish rule and Polish institutions was formed out of Little Russia, and remained so until the rising of the Cossack chief Bogdan Chmielnicki in 1654. By the Andrussowo Treaty, the left bank of the Dnieper being ceded to Russia, Poltava became part of the dominions of the Zaporogian Cossacks, and was divided into “ regiments,” six of which (Poltava, Pereyaslavl, Priluki, Gadyach, Lubny and Mirgorod) lay within the limits of the present government. They lost their independence in 1764. (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)