Law and Women in Early Rus Society

The two law codes we have read for the people of Rus are very different. They show changing attitudes to governance, punishment, and women. The First law code we read, the Pravada Russkaia, mostly describes crimes that pretty much everyone would have a problem with. They are things like theft, violence, and destruction of property. The mechanism for enforcement is the wronged party. The second set of laws we have read, Iaroslav’s Statute, Are much broader. Instead of before when crimes such as rape where left out, probably because everyone knew what to do about it, they are included. There are lots of new laws about women, their actions, and actions against them. There is also the inclusion of laws with religious reasons. Punishments no longer go just to the wronged party, but they may now also have to be paid to the Metropolitan or the Church. Some crimes even require people to go to covenants. The laws protected people especially women from things such as being kicked out of their house, or raped, but also restricted rights we would see as very important today.

In early Rus the Orthodox Church had a heavy hand in people’s views of women. The Church had a way of viewing women that we might refer to as the “Madonna/Whore complex.” Women where either good or evil based on a set of guidelines we today would most likely not think of. However that does not mean that women where without power in the society. There was evidence of them doing everything from being mayors of towns to brewing their own beer. While this might have set them occasionally at odds with the Church they where still able to enjoy greater freedoms. The Church’s opinion of women was widespread it often did not reflect the actual position of women, who often had prominence than they where given credit for. I wonder how comparable the situation of women was in Rus to other places around the world at the same time.

4 thoughts on “Law and Women in Early Rus Society

  1. Zach bring up the interesting point that the Russian Orthodox Church dictated perceptions of women in early Russian society, placing them in either a “Madonna or whore” category. The Iaroslav Statute, however, does not differentiate between the Church’s views of women and other perceptions of women which existed before the area became Christian. I wonder if Rus women had more rights than their European counterparts specifically because Christianity came to the region so much later, and the story of Eve eating the apple was therefore less ingrained in the Rus culture.

  2. I think both Zach and Leah brought up interesting points, in regards to the ROC’s perceptions of women primarily placing them in a “Madonna or whore” category. What I find particularly interesting, though, is that the life of a female slave (in terms of the law) was worth more than that of a male slave. This was almost solely due to her social role (namely the role of procreating and helping to establish a new workforce).

    In general, I’m not really sure how much weight can be placed on the evidence from the second reading. It seemed somewhat bias in portraying the prominence of women during the time period. In reality, though, how many documents exist where women’s rights were trampled? How does that number compare to the amount of documents, similar to the ones the authors cited?

  3. Going along with differences between the two law codes, I felt that the Russkaia Pravda not only had a more general moral code but also placed more value in economy based things such as livestock. Livestock played a huge role in early Rus’ society for things such as trade and the production of food. The Russkaia Pravda did not place as much value on morals and Christian views. I also think that this law code was less enforced due to the fact that most of the crimes were handled between the victim and the offender with no centralized authority to intervene.

  4. The Orthodox Church’s “Madonna/Whore” view of women as being either “good” or “evil” was very interesting to me in how they distinguished that divide. The church makes women’s position in regards to sexuality and relationships very clear – “good” women are to be submissive to the men in their lives and “evil” women refuse to be. However, I was curious as to how the church went on to expand the category of “evil” women to include women that were independent of men entirely. In these cases, the women were not outright acting against their assigned roles, but rather breaking away from the hierarchy together. The fact that there are no laws punishing this behavior (and that there are in fact laws protecting a girl from being forced into marriage), despite the fact that the church was against it goes to prove Leah’s prior point regarding Iaroslav’s Statute as not entirely the same as the word of the church.

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