Borzoi are a breed of Russian wolfhound (the word is both singular and plural). The name comes from the Russian for 'quick'. They were traditionally used as hunting dogs in the nineteenth century, as we see here; now they are most often found as household pets. The publishing house Alfred A. Knopf uses a borzoi as its logo.
The Adyghe people, who were called 'Circassians' by Europeans, are an indigenous group from the North Caucasus, on the north-east coast of the Black Sea. In the 1860s, around the time Tolstoy was writing, the Russians were embarking upon a systematic program of ethnic cleansing in this region that saw 90% of the indigenous population deported across the Black Sea to Turkey, where the largest population of Adyghe remains.
Adyghe headgear usually consisted of a tall, conical cap made of Karakul (a type of lamb hide) which was either black or grey in colour. These were called kalpak or papakha.
The Tartars, or Tatars (the latter is the preferred spelling) are a large Turkic ethnic group from Central Asia. They first appear to have come from the area around Lake Baikal in south-east Siberia in the fifth century AD, although little historical evidence is available to support this. They formed part of the (ethnically unrelated) Mongol invasion of Russia and Europe in the 13th century, which led to the words 'Mongol' and 'Tatar' being used interchangeably. During the period of the Golden Horde, following Genghis Khan's conquests, the Tatar tribes converted to Sunni Islam. As the Golden Horde fell apart, most of the Tatar khanates within it were gradually absorbed into the Russian Empire. It is estimated that the total Tatar population numbered around 10 million at the end of the twentieth century. To this day, Tatar women have a reputation for being fiery tempered and independent.
The following passage inspired the title of the British historian Orlando Figes' book Natasha's Dance. Tolstoy questions how the sheltered, Westernised Natasha could have instinctively picked up the ability to dance the traditional folk dances of Russia, and Figes draws on this to examine the way Russia was torn between celebrating innate Russian culture and the temptations of imitating Western Europe. Despite the recent controversy surrounding Orlando Figes, his book provides an good introduction to the history of Russian culture.