The Ulozhenie, or the Code of Law of 1649, illuminates the immense strength of the Russian government at this time. We read the first several chapters, on blasphemy and improper behavior in church; respect for the Sovereign; forging documents; forging money; and travel to other countries. Each section describes violent and physical punishments for people who fight or disagree in church or who plot against the Sovereign. These laws show not only a regimented society, but also a strong and organized one. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Russian government had very specific procedures regarding legal documents; standardized forms of money; and clear, indisputable land boundaries.
Analyzing this document in regards to the Sudebnik of 1497 and the Pravda Russkaia of the eleventh century, I am most interested in the section on counterfeit money. The Sudebnik, 150 years before, included laws about blaspheming the church and even land boundaries, but the Ulozhenie is the first code I’ve seen which mentions money. The law dictates, “If mint masters should make either copper, or tin, or economical money…or if they should add copper, tin, or lead to silver and thereby cause harm to the Sovereign’s treasury, such mint masters should be executed by puring molten matter down their throats” (Ulozhenie). Violent and terrifying punishment aside, this act demonstrates that the “Sovereign’s treasury” was composed of silver, and that the common currency was also pieces of silver. Copper and tin were not valid forms of currency; the state had a standarized money system. Furthermore, the tsar understood that corrupting that system could severely disrupt the economics of the country–hence the brutal punishment for the counterfeiter.
This point, however, makes me wonder how widespread this currency was. The presence of a law does not mean that its citizens followed it. Were silver coins only used in the cities, with trades of goods still used in the country?