The Code of Law of 1649

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?

One thought on “The Code of Law of 1649

  1. In most cultures that use fiat money it is not uncommon to use precious mettle’s like silver or gold. However the fact that these mettle are so rare makes it hard for us to produce a lot of them. Because of that society will usually make smaller currency denominations out of copper iron or bronze. So gold may not have been the only type of coin. Also i believe there is mention of coinage in the both law codes we have read so far. Neither of them mention counterfeiting, but both mention fines paid in a universal currency so i do not doubt that it happened.

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