Observations on Rus Society

Having looked at the Правда Русская (Pravda Russkaia) and compared it to Iaroslav’s Statute I think that the change in the documents can tell us a lot about life in early Rus as well as the different roles that men and women played in their society. In my opinion the biggest change between the two legal codes is the shift in importance from material possessions to family as well as sexual values. In the Pravda Russkaia most of the laws are jumbled around with little regard for organization, however the central theme seems to be property and its value; however, in Iaroslav’s statute we can see Christian values starting to emerge as there are many laws pertaining to marriage and adultery in particular. These include rules about when and how people can get divorced as well as several clauses that talk about incest or sexual relations with other non Christians, actions which were both condemned.

Another aspect of this document that I think is important to look at is the role of women in Rus society. Generally when looking through history I expect to find women having very little power as compared to men. However, in Iaroslav’s Statue I saw several things that led me to believe that women held some power in early Rus. One law in particular that comes to mind is…

“if a girl does not wish to marry,[and] then the father and mother give her [in marriage] by force, and if the girl causes [harm] to herself, than the father and mother are guilty before the Metropolitan, and they are to pay the losses. Likewise with a young man [who does not wish to marry].”

Not only does this law seem to protect women from marriages they may not want, it also does something that I think is equally important. In the end of the clause it says that this practice is the same with both males and females who do not wish to marry. This leads me to believe that the people of Rus may have valued female contribution more than other societies of the time.

Lastly I also noticed that there was nothing in this legal code regarding homosexuality. I found it interesting that nothing was said, as this seems to be a very consistent topic in so dubbed “Christian nations”. The absence of this subject leads me to wonder whether or not this issue was important in Rus society or if it was a social taboo that was intentionally not included.

3 thoughts on “Observations on Rus Society

  1. Reading Iaroslav’s Statute, I also noticed that women seemed to have more rights than I expected women from the Middle Ages to have in terms of sexual harassment, choosing whom to marry, and property rights. Like Adrian, I thought it was interesting that neither men nor women were obliged to marry the person whom their parents picked out from them. This statue made me wonder if women retained these rights over the next several hundred years. Did this practice cause Russia to develop differently from European societies such as England, in which only men could inherit property and class structures became intrinsically tied to property inheritance, as both men and women had to marry someone of a similar social class to maintain the socioeconomic status quo? I also wonder how “enforceable” each of these laws were; I think that Adrian’s assumption that women held some power in early Russia depends upon the government actually enforcing the laws protecting women. We don’t know how many cases in which women asked for their rights to be respected went unheard, unsupported, or undocumented.

  2. I too was surprised that women and men had a large say in who they would marry. Not only could they object to who their parents wanted them to marry, they could also pick out who they wish to have as their spouse to some extent. Law number 47 states: “If a girl wishes to marry, but her father and mother do not allow her, and she causes [some harm] to herself, the father and mother are guilty before the Metropolitan.” While it is true it is up to the Rus’ government to enforce such laws, I feel that it is fair to assume that women did hold power in this society. There are many laws protecting women’s rights in some way and therefore I think that these laws were something well understood and enforced.

  3. Another aspect that I found interesting in Iaroslav’s Statute which you did not bring up was how the laws treated women of different social classes. There were certain crimes, such as rape, where the punishment for committing it upon a woman of a higher social standing was much higher than the punishment for committing it upon a lower class woman. Certain laws mentioned actions against women were townspeople; while others went a level lower and mentioned specifically farmers. This brought to me wondering whether this was a simple lack of continuity amongst the laws, or if committing crimes against someone as lowly as a farmer’s daughter was not considered important enough to even bother mentioning in while recording the laws. Additionally, although the punishment was higher for a crime committed against a woman of a more noble birth, were she the one to commit a crime the cost to redeem her was much higher than the cost to redeem a common woman. This shows that upper-class woman were both more valued and held to higher expectations.

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