Dead or Alive, You’re Coming with Me

As Peter the Great tries to westernize Russia, he enacts many reforms that follow a similar pattern.  One pattern that I was able to discern from the readings was that each reform had a part in limiting the power of the church or Boyars.  The church is seen to be limited with the role of priests.  To become a priest you must be taught by a bishop and formally trained.  A person cannot just decide to be a priest because he wants to reap the benefits of the position.  Priests are not able to make any commercial gains from baptisms or any sort of service.  They are to must represent a good lifestyle and not set a bad example for those around them (RS, 334-36).   Education begins to become a requirement for admission into the elite class as well and you would not be considered for the position of a noble without being educated.  This forced elites to receive an education outside of traditional religious instruction, perhaps undermining the church (RS, 246-49). Peter seems to be at least trying to enact requirements for positions, instead of letting the less qualified gain these positions.

It seems that Peter’s intent for the Table of Ranks was to undermine the power of the Boyars.  The Table of Ranks introduces how rank is attained and clearly displays which classes have more power compared to the others.  One sentence from the eighth statute is striking as it states, “… We shall proffer no rank to those who have rendered no service to Us and the fatherland….”.  This really drives the point that your rank is decided by how useful you are to the state, not entirely by lineage.  If a noble does not follow this rank and acts higher than their rank, they would be fined.  This could’ve been put in place to deter any Boyars trying to act out of place (RS, 228-29).  The factor of lineage is not completely taken out of determining class, but what you are able to do for the state seems to become a more vital part of the process.  

Kneller, Godfrey. 1698. N.p.

The Start of Moscow’s Rise

The documents ascertaining to different regions of Rus’ in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries depict rather well how power was viewed and exacted.  The most important thing to note is since the different regions of Rus’ were ruled differently, the expansion eastward and away from Kiev is logical.

Firstly, we can tell how the mentality of the Northwest, Southwest, and Northeast parts of the Rus’ were different in the types of the documents given.  The document for Northwest Rus’ is a treaty between boyars and the prince.  In this document, it lays out ground rules for the prince to abide by.  The aristocrats in Novgorod clearly write in a tone of authority, but in the document itself they state more or less that power is to be shared between the people of Novgorod (the aristocrats) and the prince.

The document for the Southwestern Rus’ is an extraction from a chronicle, which tells a tale of boyars conspiring against the prince in this region.  When their first conspiracy plan is foiled, many boyars flee to Hungary, convince the king of Hungary to overtake Prince Danilo’s lands, and eventually the boyars end up making princely decisions over the land without the knowledge or permission of Prince Danilo.  Of course, as this document is a chronicle, it carries a religious tone, especially when Prince Danilo finds out about how his Boyar’s betray him, but acts meekly in seeking favor from God, and how he “[prays] to God for his native land, which [is] held by these godless [boyars] and ruled by them” (KM, pg. 87).  Here we can see that the prince is merely a figurehead with no authority over his lands, while the aristocracy holds any real power.

The third document, coming from Moscow, is Prince Dmitrii Donskoi’s will and testament.  This document are the prince’s own words, and were recorded in witness by members of the Church and aristocracy.  However, these witnesses are mentioned penultimately, and Prince Dmitrii is clearly in control over his lands and its profits.  In this document, there are two important aspects to note about how he divvies up his property.  Firstly, he gives his wife shares of property from each of the shares of his sons, and gives her authority over her sons about how in any circumstances that are not outlined in the will, she can change each son’s share (though this is still outlined rather carefully in the will how she is supposed to distribute the land).  He also states several times throughout the document how his sons must obey the princess, or they lose his blessing, and therefore, their shares of his lands and property.  Secondly, Prince Dmitrii divides the land unevenly.  He gives the largest share of inheritance and his princeship to his eldest son, and the following sons receive less than their older brother(s).  In the lands he gives each of his sons, he mentions how they are to inherit the lands that his father had obtained, meaning before Prince Dmitrii’s rule, Moscow had greatly expanded.

As each Moscow heir receives an uneven amount of inheritance, this exhibits how eventually over time, Moscow heirs would inherit close to nothing.  However, since there is evidence of a previous Moscow expansion, what this does in turn is encourage the Muscovite royalty to further expand, making there more lands to inherit.  What this leads to is a novel expansionist attitude in Muscovite princes that is not seen in the other regions of Rus’.

With that said, this is exactly how true power began to gravitate toward Moscow:

  1. In the western parts of the Rus’, the princes lost most if not all of their princely power in government, while in Moscow, the rule of the prince was absolute.
  2. Moscow was beginning to express a need to expand their lands.  In the expansion of their lands, it would in turn result in Rus’ expanding in general.