Domostroi, Ch. 24-38

Chapters 24-37 of the Domostroi deal with how the people of the household should live their lives. Men of their household must live a christian lifestyle and treat all of their responsibilities with care. If a man is not able to help those in need or commits crimes against the state, he will bring, “… his soul to destruction and his house to disgrace.” ((Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, trans and ed., The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1994,) 121.)) Rulers must be fair to their people and not be selfish in all of their decisions they makes. Not being able to manage expenses is considered a great dishonor. The Domostroi reminded people not to keep, “… more slaves than you can afford,” and to free those slaves one did not need. ((Pouncy, Domostroi, 124.)) The relationship between a landowner and his servants appears to be very close, as a landowner is taught to, “… care for them and reward them as though they were your own children.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 126.))

Wives of the household rulers are to be submissive to their husbands and follow their commands. It’s even mentioned that a wife should consult her husband on any matter of importance.((Pouncy, Domostroi, 132.)) The wife has a tight reign on what is happening in the household and must set an example for the servants to follow. She must be intelligent in the way of knowing how to cook meals for every occasion, keep records of the household, and work tirelessly as ”she should even fall asleep over her embroidery.”((Pouncy, Domostroi, 127.)) The expectation of women continue on and on; drunkenness is impermissible, gossiping is intolerable, idleness is unheard of, and women must act as the example for all other household workers. ((Pouncy, Domostroi, 138.))

While these regulations all explicitly address the individual, they create a larger social contract. The Domostroi creates standards are enforced communally – regulating actions not through a punishment by the state but through a loss of grace and respect of the community. This system only works when a population embraces the same standards. When one strays from the norm they feel the exclusion and chastisement of the whole community. The Domostroi heavily religious messages illustrate the extent to which the church and religion permeated everyone’s lives.
Furthermore, when examining the Domostroi in the context of what Muscovy was experiencing during the rule of Ivan, it takes steps to take even more control into the lives of the people, notably the boyars. Ivan released his own Sudebnik in 1550, and this centralized power in things a law code would normally address, such as theft, property disputes and so on. The Domostroi seeks to control what happens in the home, which fits in with Ivan’s desire to centralize power. The new autocratic ideals Ivan clearly sought to implement within his own government can also be seen in his ambition to control how the boyars and normal people lived their own private lives.

Domostroi ch. 1-11

During the reign of Ivan IV, the Domostroi was written. The book is a guide on the rituals of mundane life of the time period followed by those in the upper strata of society. It details the proper way of living as a Christian, as a good citizen, and as a human being. Throughout the first few chapters, we noticed reoccurring themes.

Being a household manual, it would make sense that the Domostroi would mention God, as the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church was ubiquitous in this time period. These chapters show that religion is not just a part of society but the guiding force in the lives of 16th century Muscovites. The first chapters discuss everything from family relationships to entertaining guests and the importance of religion in all of these acts. The importance of God also appears regularly in the preparation and importance of food in the family home. According to the Domostroi, God can make bad or rotten food taste sweet again. It also explores ideas such as the love each person should have for God, the Tsar, other important figures in society, the less fortunate, and loved ones.  It is very clear in the text that, specifically for God and the Tsar, this love should be accompanied by the acknowledgement that reverence is essential and the fear of these figures is just as important as the love. The prevalence of God in Muscovy is clear through these first few chapters.

The Domostroi mentions food many times throughout the first eleven chapters. Food plays an important role that relates to God. Communion bread must be chewed with the lips and not the teeth: biting sharply and harshly into the flesh of Jesus was wrong. With the bread, a Christian may only drink certain liquids, and must do so carefully, sipping the divine water or consecrated wine. When feasting with neighbors, friends, and family, the highest ranking person in attendance is to start eating first; to eat out of place is disrespectful. When someone dies in a man’s family, food is set out so that the neighbors and friends can feast in celebration in the memory of the person and in God. Food is God’s gift to the people and so the Domostroi demands that Christians “eat, then, and drink in praise of God” (ch.11 p.77) One cannot praise God while eating slovenly, sloppily, or rudely. Food is meant to be shared among all in attendance. The more honor a person has does not entitle him to eat more food than the rest. Sharing and compassion for all of God’s creations — whether elder, equal, or poor — is what the Domostroi promotes.

The Domostroi also placed a lot of emphasis on reverence for all—reverence for God, reverence for superiors, and even reverence for inferiors. Reverence for all of these beings, natural or supernatural, is supposed to be accomplished through both love and fear. By showing reverence through both love and fear, the reader hears quotes from the Bible about love for the Lord (Chapter 4), and at the same time he also hears the quote that one should “fear the tsar and serve him faithfully” (Chapter 7). All of this demonstrates that, while there were different ways of showing reverence to others, one of the central themes of the Domostroi was in showing reverence.


Leah, Leah, and Brendan.

Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston. The Domostroi. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Domostroi 12-23

Chapters 12-23 of the Domostroi emphasize the importance of piety at all levels of society, from national politics to household affairs. Chapters 12 – 17 focus on the role of religion in the home and the importance of religious education for children. The man is the spiritual guide of his family, and he is expected to lead evening vespers and morning prayer for his wife, children, and servants. Men must go to church every day, and women and servants ought to attend services whenever they have relief from their domestic duties (Chapter 12). Children must observe religious rites from an early age: chapter 14 commands children to respect their father-confessors, and that they must invite him into their home, be revealing about their sins, and look to him for examples on how to live a good, useful life. Though children have spiritual guides within the community, parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s religious development and must protect them from sin. If a child sins, the whole family and village are implicated. Chapters 15 and 16 offer gendered guidelines for raising children: if a man has daughters, he must begin to amass her dowry as soon as she is born. If he has sons, he must “break them in early” when they are young and begin to beat them at a young age if they misbehave.

Chapters 18-22 describe relationships within the household, and show how behavior in the household is an extension of one’s devotion to God. Children must respect their parents in order to be blessed God, and a wife’s service to her husband and children are tantamount to her service to her Lord. Men must be devoted to God to be successful in their work. Slaves and servants should always respect their master, and will receive mercy from God if they go to church.

Chapter 23 reflects the belief that the fate of the Russian state depended on the piety of its citizens. All disasters and diseases are “caused by God’s wrath.” If citizens are not devoted to God, the nation will be “captured and slaughtered by pagans” who will burn their churches. An angry God may “cause the Tsar to seize our property in anger,” suggesting that Ivan’s caprice was the result of divine intervention. Citizens could avoid such fates by practicing charity and, “above all, commit[ing] no evil” (page 125).

Domostroi Ch. 39-49

Chapters 39 through 49 of the Domostroi are concerned primarily with supplying one’s household in the most cost-effective way possible. The section opens with the declaration that if a man does not follow the guidelines put forth then he will be “destroyed now and forever,” by God (Ch. 39).The head of a household is then advised, multiple times, to either purchase or have a servant purchase enough supplies to last the entire year. This should be done when peasants have wares at the market place, and one should avoid buying through middlemen as it increases the price (Ch. 40). Having a surplus is never a problem because extra goods can be sold and if they were purchased intelligently, they should not have been an extra cost burden on the household. With a surplus of variable foods a household can also provide excellent hospitality so as to remain in high esteem among his peers.

Along with purchasing in bulk at smart times, the author strongly suggests being as self-sufficient as possible. A household is encouraged to have various animals and for a wife to be able to make dishes from every part of a slaughtered animal (Ch. 42). The author also outlines how to feed these animals: largely with leftover scraps from one’s own kitchen and grazing, meaning that no extra food needs to be purchased for livestock. A household should also take advantage of the many benefits of having a kitchen garden as it can be another source of food for the family and the animals. The author insists that nothing should be wasted, even the greens from root vegetables should be eaten. Finally, the serving dishes used in the household should always be impeccably clean and cooks and servers must remain orderly. This section is focused on the benefits of thrift, being hospitable, and keeping a house in accordance with God’s will.


To what proportion of the population do the guidelines in this section pertain?

Why do the writers of the Domostroi place so much emphasis on providing hospitality?


Chap. 39-49, In The Domostroi. Translated by Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, edited by Carolyn

Johnston Pouncy, 145. New York: Cornell University, 1994

Domostroi 12-18

These chapter encompass the duties of men, concerning how to pray and how to conduct their wives, children and servants to be good christians. Perhaps more than anything else, men are encouraged to pray numerous times a day, including waking up in the middle of the night to do so. Men are to pray to god, christ and perhaps the most revealing of Russian culture, the Tsar and his royal family.  It is clear that men are supposed to pray and go to church far more than women, children and their servants, however they are also obligated to attend church when their duties allow them to. Singing and Silence appear in the chapters. as men should practice both with solitude. Silence, especially in the church in significant, in order to preserve a sense of calmness. Likewise, violence, pillaging and anger are prohibited. Could this be an influence from The Mongol Invasions, or is this just a common courtesy to the church? Also introduced in these chapters is the importance and devotion to the christian rosary, one must always have these near. Meals are meant to be a sacred part of the day, along with praying before and after one should reflect throughout the feast. Chapter fifteen emphasizes that a child, if god chooses to bless a couple with one, is meant to be raised by both and are obligated to love their kin. Towards the end of this section it is stated that a father should whip their sons so that in their older years they will be more happy. Is this rational?


Домострой, глав 39-49. (Domostroi, chapters 39-49.)

In this section of The Domostroi, the author instructs the aristocratic Russian man on how to maintain stores for the household.  It is made clear that one should only rarely have to go to the market to buy certain things (like fish, timber, or imported goods like beaver or squirrel skin); however, many items of foods, grains, or beverages should be maintained by one’s own estate.  A Russian man who is “farsighted” is one who thinks of the future and is able to have stores that would supply food/drink for his household for a year, and be able to supply the correct type of food during a fast.  The most interesting out of these chapters are those explaining how to brew and serve different sorts of libations for guests of the household.

I must stress that it is made clear in these passages these instructions are meant for the man of the household.  A wife, however, must be instructed in such management of the state, but should also have prior knowledge of how to cook and prepare a multitude of different foods.

Being sensible and buying things while they’re affordable to save for later, not wasting any sort of product, as well as God and marriage ring true in these passages.  In chapter 39 it quickly states that a man who lives by these means and upholds and instructs his wife/servants on living a good Christian life will be blessed by the Lord. Here The Domostroi explains that one will receive plenty on his lands as a gift from God only if he abides by the Lord’s will.  Instruction of the Lord’s will to a wife and others of the household, as explained in the introduction, is the most important message that the book tries to relay to its audience.  What this does is give insight to how closely the church possibly was to authority at the time this book was penned, as they tried to bring order and establish some sort of base to the functions of aristocratic society in sixteenth century Russia.

Domostroi: 64-67

Beginning with chapter 64, these sections provide insight to how to run a proper household for privledged Russians.  Chapter 64 is a long list of instructions for the father of the household and how to raise and instruct his son in the ways of Chritianity.  The chapter proceeds chronologically, beginning with the baptism of the son and the promises the father makes to make God known to his son.  The Domonstroi instructs the father to tell his child “to fear God”, and to follow the Holy Scripture.  As the chapter progresses, the topics the father must tackle mature.  These include drinking, marriage, and eventually how the child must teach his own sons.

Chapters 64-66 all deal with food and what kinds to each on certain dates, as well as ingredients for popular dishes.  Chapter 64 includes an exhaustive list of foods that people should serve in different times of the year.  Some dates are “from Easter onward”, Saint Peter’s fast, and the Feast of St. Peter.  It is interesting to note that the food selection is varied, which indicates that the readers of the Domostroi would be financially stable.  Chapters 65 and 66 provide a number of ways to prepare mead and fermented drinks, as well as recipes that utilize vegetables and fruit.

Chapter 67 is a list of wedding rituals that are popular among the wealthy within Russia during this time.  The wedding rituals are unbelievably precise and elaborate, detailing every possible aspect of the wedding.  The Domostroi also includes planning before the wedding.  In addition to the elaborate weddings, there is also a less elaborate ritual included as well.

Domostroi 1-11

Chapers 1-11 of the Domostroi focus on themes of social hierarchy as well as the presence of a loving, merciful God. Chapter 1 instructs men to teach Christian values to their children, wives, and servants, in order to spread God’s will. As a testament to God being loving and forgiving, servants are never to be reprimanded with physical harm but with warmth and kindness. Chapter 2 through chapter 5 elaborate on the practices and values held within the orthodox faith. Good Christians must worship the holy trinity and Christ’s cross as well as believe in Christ’s Blood and Body as being present in the communion. The Domostroi instructs, in great detail, that communion must be received carefully and with a pure heart. Most importantly, it is a Christian’s duty to do the work of God and to care for the unfortunate, needy, or troubled individual. In reference to the importance of social hierarchy, chapter 5 is entirely devoted to treating bishops, priests, and monks with reverence and obedience, as God commanded.  In chapter 7, the tsar is honored as the “earthly king” while God is the “heavenly king”. There is a change from the merciful God we have previously seen in this chapter: “The Lord will destroy all those speaking falsely, slanderously, or deceitfully to the tsar, a prince, or any boyar.” The tsar and the princes are not deliverers of God’s mercy but agents of God’s punishment. The author is literally instilling the “fear of God” into the readers’ hearts so they will remember to always obey and honor the tsar. Chapter 8 through chapter 11 focus on respectful, appropriate behavior within the home, instructing readers to place icons in every room of their home, even explaining how to keep the icons clean. There are also instructions for how to invite a priest to your home and how to host a dinner party that honors God. One is to always eat gratefully and devoutly so as to keep angels close and warn away the devil.

The Domostroi, Chapters 35-49

The Domostroi clearly sets out each person’s role in a household. It is very clear on how one should carry themselves and how to act in various situations. In chapter 35, the focus is on how servants should conduct themselves while running errands. They are supposed to be very conservative and follow every instruction given. They are told not to gossip at any point, and to give the utmost respect to whoever they are sent to. This includes not coughing, sneezing, or taking any interest in a household’s possessions.  For women, The Domostroi also lays out a very conservative lifestyle. They are not supposed to eat or drink at any point without their husband’s knowledge, have strangers in their household without the husband knowing, and cannot drink any type of alcohol other than light beer or kvass. This of course also means that no woman should ever drink alcohol to the point of drunkenness. The man’s role is primarily focused on maintaining the order of things and enforcing the rules set forth. It states that if a man does not structure his household in the way shown, “he will be destroyed now and forever. His house will also be destroyed.”

The Domostroi’s rules all follow the same religious trend. Everything that is said carries the force of God which could mean that it was either followed very closely or possibly very leniently. Some of the roles stated seem to be close to impossible to follow such as not being allowed to do normal bodily functions like coughing or sneezing in front of a master. Like many of the codes written before its content is very religiously skewed. If Christianity was widely accepted at the time then these texts may have been very valid. However, without a strong central authority that would strictly enforce these rules, I find it hard to believe that most people could follow such a strict and contextual code.

Chapters 37 and 38 discuss the proper ways in which to care for clothing and organize the house. Clothing should be kept neatly stored, and free from all stains. The author of The Domostroi takes careful consideration when outlining appropriate dress for a variety of occasions: work should be performed in old clothes, and the very best clothes should be worn to church and when going out in public. Chapter 38, entitled How to Keep {Dishes in Good Order and} Arrange the Domestic Utensils. {How to Keep Rooms} Neat and Clean. {How the Housewife should Punish Her Servants, How her Husband Should Supervise Her, Punish Her, and Save Her with Fear} outlines the proper ways to maintain the kitchen, prepare and save food and clean the house. The author places an emphasis on organization and clean hygiene practices (especially when handling/storing food), and says that entering an organized area “is like entering Paradise” (143).

Chapter 38 also touches upon the issue of enforcing organization and the maintenance of ‘Paradise.’ Wives should be punished with a beating, but should also be forgiven for their transgressions. Children and servants should be punished in a similar fashion, and no one should ever be struck out of anger or hatred. Chapter 39 says that a failure to correctly teach and enforce the mistress, servants and children would result in judgement from God. Alternatively, a master who could teach the other members of the household and maintains an organized house received mercy from God.

The Domostroi puts a strong emphasis on the importance of being clean and keeping an organized house. The author’s decision to use God’s judgement as punishment highlights the religiosity of the time period. Such punishment would have had no bearing on a society which wasn’t devout. The attention to cleanliness is also an indicator that people were not dirty and unhygienic, but rather that dressing nicely and keeping a clean, organized house was a matter of pride. The hierarchal nature of society can be seen especially well in the doling out of punishments: the master is responsible for teaching and discipling his wife, children and servants.

Chapters 40, 48, and 49 mainly talk about the role of the steward in the household. The steward runs the kitchens and all that encompasses, from planning meals to making sure thing are clean in the morning.. They are entrusted by the master with this task, so that the master can attend to other things. Part of the job is to check to make sure the house has enough foodstuffs and arrange for more to be bought if it is running low. There is advice included as to who should be trusted to buy from and how to attempt to even make some money with excess supplies. They should also walk through the kitchen every morning to make sure that everything is in it’s place and in good repair. After the husband and wife talk about the meals they want it is the stewards job to make sure they get what they want. He has buy and give  to the cooks and bakers the proper ingredients, then make sure the food is prepared properly. Afterwards he is in charge of dealing with leftovers and making sure everything is cleaned.

The position of steward is not too dissimilar to a position you might see in modern times in a large household. Now and assumably then it was the type of thing that a fairly rich family would have. To have your own bakers, cooks, and other serving people that you need someone to watch over them it would be a lot of people. The rules and instructions are quite strict for how they should act which makes sense due to the amount of money they would handle and opportunities for them to steal. It is interesting that a man must consult his wife before determining what the meals for the day will be but it makes sense. Food is stereotypically the women’s job and it keeps her from being unhappy with what she is eating. Overall these rules are very similar to the description of a modern job which is interesting for text over 500  years old.

The Domostroi, or “Household Order” in English arguably aligns itself very similarly to many seemingly basic ‘codes of conduct’ – especially when referring to property. For instance, people of fifteenth century Russia valued guarantees the same way present-day society does. With regards to servants and their handling of artifact property, the Domostroi places a target on said servant’s back, making sure the servant – if delivering goods – holds himself accountable every step of the way. The Domostroi also lays out codes for how people should conduct themselves as guests in others’ homes, codes that arguably everybody – regardless of a person’s culture – should follow. Some of these codes include not wandering about aimlessly and picking up objects without permission.

On a similar note, the Domostroi states that guests should always bring gifts to their respective hosts. Hosts are also required to make sure their stock (food, drink, utilities, etc.) is always full (The Domostroi explicitly states, a “sensible household should contain everything that will be used in the house during that year”)(152). One element of conduct in the Domostroi that is a debatable form of conduct (religion aside) is how women should behave. Chapters 35-49 of the Domostroi state that women shouldn’t drink – ever. It also places (arguably) too much responsibility on the husband with regards to what women can and cannot eat. The Domostroi states that wife’s must ask their husbands about what they can and cannot eat. The code also advocates for self-sufficiency, by teaching it’s readers how to cook, farm, and preserve stock for year-long consumption.


The Domostroi (Chapters 50-67)


In terms of food, large estates had a wide range in diet. The upper-class ate nearly every type of meat imaginable: chicken, pork, swan, chipmunk, elk, hare, duck, mutton, goose, etc. They also ate many different types of fish. Grains consisted of barley, kasha, bread, and even noodles. For fruits and vegetables, the upper-class ate cabbage, turnips, various types of melons, apples, and berries. They drank different variations of mead, made with honey, spices, or berries. Servants’ diets were more restricted. Staples included cabbage, various types of soups and porridges, and kasha. On Sundays and other holy days, servants were allowed turnovers, jellies and pancakes. Their beer was “second-grade,” although on Sundays servants could drink ale.

If the master of the house hosted a feast, the steward had to supervise the kitchen and bakery. The steward also had to assign other servants to different stations both to serve and supervise the guests to ensure that they did not become too drunk or steal any of the master’s belongings. After the feast, the steward was in charge of counting how much food and drink had been consumed, as well as counting up the silver and dishes to make sure none had been stolen. He then had to report these numbers to the master.

This background on food and feasts grants insight into the diets and values of sixteen-century Russians. The Domostroi specifies that the upper-class would eat not just meat, but kidneys, giblets, gizzards, tongue, necks, and joints, etc. People ate nearly every part of the animal. On one hand, this information suggests that their diets were sustainable because they left very little waste. On the other hand, it suggests that food may have been scarce at times; consequently, people had to eat every part of the animal in order to survive. Furthermore, the different diet listed for servants reveals that social classes determined what people ate. In general, the upper-class ate a protein-heavy diet, whereas the servant staples were grains and vegetables. Finally, the description of the feast indicates that theft was relatively common at gatherings. The fact that the servants had to patrol the guests and count the silver after the meal implies that guests often brought home goods from the hosts’ household, and the hosts tried to avoid such practices.


The Domostroi very clearly states the tasks that the servants are supposed to carry out and the proper manner of performing them. Chapters fifty-five to fifty-seven outline the ways that a servant would store equipment, treat the animals, and deal with excess food. Chapter fifty-five states how and where to store clothes, hunting gear, horse-riding gear, and used goods (such as building materials and tools) in the household barn. Fifty-six and seven detail the storage of hay in a barn, the proper treatment of animals, the storage of wood, and the disposal of food scraps. Some of the most interesting points in these chapters are the instructions to servants to record all stored items, to save food scraps and feed animals with them, and the instruction to the house master to check the progress of the servants every night.

Chapter fifty-nine details how a house master should reward a servant who does his job well and its inverse. The master should treat good servants well by giving them better food and drink, having them sit with you at meals, and verbal encouragements. If a servant is bad, the master should verbally reprimand him in front of all the other servants and he should physically beat him if he offends repeatedly or in a particularly bad manner. In addition, it states that the female maids are the responsibility of the mistress of the house. Chapter sixty states that the master of the house should audit servants who are buying for the house every week (or he should have his son do it). If the master finds the servant doing his job well and happily, he should reward him, but if he finds the servant working poorly, then he should rebuke him. If the servant cheats him, then he should fine the servant monetarily, and if the servant continues to do his tasks poorly, the master should send him away.

Chapter sixty-three details the proper preservation of food. It states that servants should clean food properly and they should check it often to ensure that it does not spoil. Drinks are to be stored in ice and refilled often. Clothing should also be checked often, and spoiled food must be disposed of. Food in danger of spoiling should be fed to animals or given to the poor.

These chapters of the Domostroi tell us how advanced the storage and maintenance abilities were at the time. Also, they give us insight into the running of the household.

Management of the Estate

The life of a master was not all luxury. Although they enjoyed many more indulgences than the common man, they had their share of duties as well. The master of the estate was responsible for giving orders to the steward to carry out. Everything, down to the drinks served and the items on the menu at feasts, was his choice. Following a feast, the master would follow up with the steward to check that everything was in order, and then punish or reward the servants according to the quality of their work. The mistress had responsibilities as well, such as checking all of the food that was to be served to the family. Every morning the master and the mistress would check the locks on all of the gates and doors around the estate, and check for theft if a lock was left undone or broken. Every night he himself would check all of the storage rooms, barns, and stables for quality of the inventory within.

Every night the master would also go around the estate and check that all fires had been properly extinguished. All stoves where expected to have a floor beneath them, and a non-flammable front to stop any sparks from flying out. Areas around the stove were supposed to be cleared of any clutter that could either kindle a fire, or get in the way of any people attempting to put one out. Additionally, the courtyard and garden should have had wells, and if they did not then they were expected to keep water handy. This demonstrates the fear that the people of the time had of fires, which were a reoccurring problem in Moscow at the time, as most of their building were made of wood.

Several aspects of religious life were present in this section as well. The estate observed many fast days, and had special meals assigned to both the upper and lower class for such occasions. The master was expected to care for his servants and the peasants under his care, giving them food, drink, and clothing, and always be aware of any injury or neediness amongst them. In doing this, they were supposedly pleasing God so that they might be given a place in heaven.

The estate was advised not to let their taxes build up. If they paid them gradually and ahead of time then their family would be happy, secure and well trusted. If the estate took too long to pay back taxes they would have to pay double, and if they took to long to pay back loans they would have to pay an additional fine.