Early Rus Law

    Once a society evolves into a body with some form of governance (whether it be a system of lords, barons, or landowners), a law code is often developed for the purpose of keeping the peace. In the Kiev region of the world during the evolution of the Rus people, two prominent law codes came to the forefront as a list of commandments by which their society stood. The first of these codes, known as Iaroslav’s Statute, came into being during the early 11th/late 10th century, and existed as a compilation of laws borrowed, modified, and evolved from tribal customs and statues that existed among the Kievan people for centuries. The second, more modern version of early Rus lawcode, known as Russkaya Parvda, stuck to many of the major principles put forth in Iaroslav’s Statute, with only a few minor alterations. Both law codes reflect a civility in style of governance that shows a relative leniency towards those who violate the principle laws illustrated in both edicts.

                 The lack of an overarching, state mandated death penalty for major offenses (excluding rape) shows both a respect for human life on the part of Rus society as a whole, a respect that perhaps blossomed out of the necessity to keep a sizeable enough population to have society function properly; in other words, perhaps the early Rus people believed a man more valuable alive as a tax paying citizen and land-worker opposed to an executed convicted criminal. Perhaps the Rus people placed a heavier financial levy on more serious crimes in order to make a steadier profit for the government, or perhaps , in the case of murder, to recoup the financial contribution that the deceased would have made as a tax payer and layman during the rest of his/her lifetime.  

                The way in which both codes directly address the issue of gender proves confusing, especially in a society that acted in an inherently patriarchal manner (excluding the rule of a female regent or two). Iaroslav’s Statute in particular goes into detail regarding the way in which men and women should act when engaged in marital affairs, assigning a government enforceable punishment for such acts as infidelity, incest, bestiality, and “defrocking” of a nun. This attention to detail in regard to the way in which men and women treat each other shows the way the early people of Rus felt about gender. Although specific gender roles are also assigned in the law code, and women are clearly subservient to men, the amount of detail given in regard to the way men and women are meant to behave towards each other in both codes shows that the patriarch based society cared enough about the well being of its women to write specific legal precedent into their highest law code, solely for the purpose of providing ample punishment for those who did each other wrong across the board, regardless of gender.  

3 thoughts on “Early Rus Law

  1. I think in some respects that the people of Rus didn’t need a death penalty in order to form a functioning society. I’m not exactly sure of when the concept of joint responsibility appeared, but it placed pressures on the entire village unit to pay taxes, produce men for the militia, etc. Though joint responsibility might not have been ‘around’ during the eleventh century, the basic premise most likely existed. Drunks and wayfarers were pushed out of villages, because they couldn’t perform and contribute positively to the village. It seems unlikely that villagers would be against drunks living in their area, but would find people with undesirable characteristics and histories (namely those that raped, stole, fought each other) perfectly okay.

    In respect to the way gender was differentiated during the eleventh century, I also find it particularly interesting how the social hierarchy became more concrete than in the Правда Русская. The Statute of Iaroslav divides people into boyars, lesser boyars, well-to-do people, common people, townspeople and farmers. The Pravda Russkaia, on the other hand, primarily divides people between slaves and non-slaves. This difference displays a new complexity in Rus society during the eleventh century.

  2. You raise an interesting point, and I think that we could benefit from looking deeper into the topic of gender in the law code. It does seem that women are represented very well in these two law codes, and they seem to be given rights more well developed than many other cultures at the time. However, as Zach stated in his examination of the topic, women are often looked at through a lens of great simplicity, simply using certain actions as a way to judge their entire person. This is important to note if we are going to determine how women are actually treated during this time period.
    The law codes provide somewhat equal punishments for men and women in topics such as marriage, infidelity, etc., but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were always treated equally in the courthouse where the proceedings occur. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that women are, shall we say, as “believable” as men. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the men of the time would often disregard the testimonies of women or be less than willing to press charges against men in favor of women.
    What I’m primarily trying to say, is that the law codes show a somewhat advanced understanding of equality between women and men. That is what makes me think that things probably weren’t as calm under the water as the surface seems to be.
    I think that the law codes we study today depict an understanding towards equality that probably did not exist to the same measure in Rus’ society.

  3. I feel that describing the society which Iaroslav’s Statute governed as one “that acted in an inherently patriarchal manner (excluding the rule of a female regent or two)”, although not inaccurate, seems to dismiss some implied rights that women in the region were given. While it seems true that men of the time were in a greater position of power, the women in early Russian society still had more power and were more protected by law than women in more western European nations at the time. For example, many women in different nations could not own property. In Iaroslav’s Statute, however, rules which discuss a woman stealing from her husband and vice versa imply that a woman must have her own property apart from that of her husband. This, along with several other laws supporting female rights, tells us that women in early Russian were more than just people to be ruled, but actual members of society.

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