Domostroi, Ch. 24-38

Chapters 24-37 of the Domostroi deal with how the people of the household should live their lives. Men of their household must live a christian lifestyle and treat all of their responsibilities with care. If a man is not able to help those in need or commits crimes against the state, he will bring, “… his soul to destruction and his house to disgrace.”1 Rulers must be fair to their people and not be selfish in all of their decisions they makes. Not being able to manage expenses is considered a great dishonor. The Domostroi reminded people not to keep, “… more slaves than you can afford,” and to free those slaves one did not need.2 The relationship between a landowner and his servants appears to be very close, as a landowner is taught to, “… care for them and reward them as though they were your own children.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 126.))

Wives of the household rulers are to be submissive to their husbands and follow their commands. It’s even mentioned that a wife should consult her husband on any matter of importance.((Pouncy, Domostroi, 132.)) The wife has a tight reign on what is happening in the household and must set an example for the servants to follow. She must be intelligent in the way of knowing how to cook meals for every occasion, keep records of the household, and work tirelessly as ”she should even fall asleep over her embroidery.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 127.)) The expectation of women continue on and on; drunkenness is impermissible, gossiping is intolerable, idleness is unheard of, and women must act as the example for all other household workers.3

While these regulations all explicitly address the individual, they create a larger social contract. The Domostroi creates standards are enforced communally – regulating actions not through a punishment by the state but through a loss of grace and respect of the community. This system only works when a population embraces the same standards. When one strays from the norm they feel the exclusion and chastisement of the whole community. The Domostroi heavily religious messages illustrate the extent to which the church and religion permeated everyone’s lives.
Furthermore, when examining the Domostroi in the context of what Muscovy was experiencing during the rule of Ivan, it takes steps to take even more control into the lives of the people, notably the boyars. Ivan released his own Sudebnik in 1550, and this centralized power in things a law code would normally address, such as theft, property disputes and so on. The Domostroi seeks to control what happens in the home, which fits in with Ivan’s desire to centralize power. The new autocratic ideals Ivan clearly sought to implement within his own government can also be seen in his ambition to control how the boyars and normal people lived their own private lives.

  1. Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, trans and ed., The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1994,) 121. []
  2. Pouncy, Domostroi, 124. []
  3. Pouncy, Domostroi, 138. []

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