Comparing the Sudebnik and the Ulozhenie

The Law Code of 1649 (Ulozhenie) ((( shows us how life has changed for the Muscovites since the Sudebnik of 1497   (( ))  written under the rule of Ivan III. This document, written during Alexis I’s reign, is significantly longer and more detailed than its predecessors, including topics topic’s that we haven’t seen before such as permits to travel to other countries, tolls, ferries, and bridges, and even illegal taverns. There are many differences, but it is crucial to mention the first and second articles, Blasphemers and Heretics and The Sovereign’s Honor and How to Guard his Health respectively. There is some mention of bishops and patriarchs dealing justice on those who offended them in previous documents, but in Article 1 of the Ulozhenie the state punishes blasphemers and anyone who interrupts a church liturgy with whipping or even death. This illustrates how truly the church and state become one after Mikhail Romanov instated his imprisoned father as the Patriarch of Moscow and how it has continued this way through Alexis’s time.

Article 2 is especially important because it gives many details about traitors who wish to do harm to the Sovereign or even think about harming him. If a man is investigated and is found to have “malicious thought” against the Tsar, he should be executed. This control of thought is very reminiscent of Big Brother and the fact that the sovereign desires total control over his subjects illustrates how there must have been little control over the population at this time. Acts against the Tsar are not even mentioned in the Sudebnik, almost as if no one would dare harm their Grand Prince. This new need for control is certainly valid, given this was written after the oprichnina and the Time of Troubles. People were starting to question this idea of hierarchy and rebellions were becoming more and more common, so this is Alexei’s way to halt rebellion in its tracks. This is especially important for him to do since his family was still new to the throne and some people, especially the boyars, didn’t see him as a valid Tsar.


1. How has the idea of owning land and property shifted from the Pravda Russkaia and the Sudebnik to the Ulozhenie?

2. The Sudebnik talks a lot about the minute details of fines whereas the Ulozhenie practically doesn’t mention it  at all. What do you think is the reason behind this?

3 thoughts on “Comparing the Sudebnik and the Ulozhenie

  1. Your first question on how the ownership of land is described differently with these law codes is very interesting. The Pravda Russkaia made it so that disputes could be settled relatively easily and with fines. It made it so that there is an emphasis on personal property such as slaves or livestock, but less on actual land. The Sudebnik included many more references to the Church and their role in the settling of disputes, evident in the usage of “God’s Justice.” Power is also given to the elder members of the community, with a testimony of an old male essentially key to winning a case in court. As we have discussed multiple times, the massive influence of the Church is a result of the Mongol invasion, and this allowed them to creep into the legal aspect of life. During the writing of the Ulozhenie, the absolute power of the tsar is being emphasized in every single sphere of life. Property ultimately belongs to the tsar, and not the Church anymore. What I found very interesting is that God was only mentioned in the section discussing blasphemers and heretics, but nowhere else. Previously, God was mentioned in every single aspect of life, but now the tsar has replaced that.

  2. Your first question poses an important thought as the idea of property and property drastically changes from the writing of the Pravda Russkaia to the Ulozhenie, especially in regards to serfdom. The Pravda Russkaia granted serfs minimal property while the Sudebnik granted them property and allowed for the serfs to leave their master for one week after the harvest. The Ulozhenie, however, classified all slaves and free peasants as serfs owned by the nobility; the Ulozhenie granted the nobility tighter control over the serfs they owned. From the Pravda Russkaia to the Ulozhenie, there is a clear progression of property in regards to serfdom and how many rights they have.

  3. Since Frank and Anabel have responded to your first question, I’ll try to tackle the second one – why does the Ulozhenie do away with the detailed fine structure that we see in the Sudebnik? The Ulozhenie seems to have shifted entirely towards corporeal punishment: lashings, whippings with a cane, detention in prison. In my document analysis, I noted that the early law codes (the Sudebnik and the Pravda Russkaia) seemed to rely on fines because they didn’t want to incapacitate any member of the population who could otherwise perform manual labor. I think the reliance on corporeal punishment in the Ulozhenie shows a shift towards commerce and non-agrarian economies, making it (unfortunately) more permissible for the state to maim its population.

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