Stewards and Manners

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 to 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”)[1]. 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 various crops, and preserve stock for year-long consumption by taking advantage of Russia’s climate.



[1] The Domostroi, pg. 152


Domostroi Chapters 19-34

The Domostroi focused heavily on religion and obedience and how it is relevant in all aspects of life regardless of social class. Everything in a true Russian Christian’s life must be blessed or prayed on so that God will bless their work. This how-to also instructed men on how to look for a good wife and what made a good wife. A good wife must have all the qualities of a hard worker, a good mother, and is one who puts her family before herself. However the key is that a good woman must be devout and loyal. The next chapter discussed the hierarchal system of the household. The man of the house teaches all, and the power trickles down from the wife to children then to servants. There were heavy religious overtones that described obedience as being extremely important in a servant or a slave in the context that they must be religious and God-fearing, but masters should not abuse their power or position. The Domostroi also instructs good Christians on how to hire people, the requirements for a good servant being a God fearing individual as well as being handy in their respected craft, never have sinned, prone to good deeds. Overall one should be a good Christian; slave should use master’s goods. Another requirement is for servants to save their better clothes for holy days and when public, never when doing work, clean when done.

The Domostroi is quick to claim that God doesn’t discriminate based on class. In order to protect oneself from illnesses, one must stay away from sorcerers, Jews and pagan rituals. If one is ill, the only cure is to pray away the sick, essentially be a good Christian and God will heal all illnesses, God sends diseases to punish sinners. If one does not obey the commandments one will go to hell. It reverts back to the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Another way to live as a good Christian is to not live outside one’s means and to buy and use what one can afford to. If one lives beyond their worth they will be scorned and ridiculed. If one lives outside their means, no one will help them because it is considered a major sin because it does not please god to live outside one’s means. This is especially shown if one has slaves but cannot afford them. The fear is that the slaves will not be obedient and as a result they will rob, steal, drink, if owned by foolish people.

Role of women was greatly discussed. The overall theme was that men must teach women, but be gentle and civil and not cruel, wives should always be obedient and devout. A good housewife is intelligent, frugal, gentle, generous and devout. A way to keep frugal is to save scraps from cloth used to make clothes to save to use for later. It is important to create a good workspace for each distinct craft, so as to prevent clutter to keep a good and clean household. Another way to keep a good household is to not gossip or entertain gossip. It is also the mistress’ duty to oversee servants’ work, to reward servants for good work, and if the servants do not do their work well, to punish them. Above all, a wife must be loyal and obedient, knowledgeable and social, ask their husband’s advice on everything, obey husband regardless of where she is, do not drink, and behave properly.

Domostroi (Chapters 1-18)

The Domostroi represents the many facets of life for the “fortunate few” in Muscovy’s social hierarchy.  Those living under this social system were subjected to strict and detailed standards of behavior and expectations.  We have determined that at the crux of this system was a “culture of fear” that was responsible for ensuring proper social conduct.  This means that this group of people followed the Domostroi‘s guidelines not because it was necessarily beneficial but because they were motivated by fear of consequences.  These consequences were social, political, and most strikingly, religious.  There is a heavy emphasis on how one should appear to God and to his peers, as he represented his family’s name and place within the religious and social hierarchy.  It seems then, that the household was not restricted to its physical space, but extended into the city, society, and religion of Moscow.

There were many expectations for Christians at this time. Specifically, the head of the household was expected to “Do God’s will faithfully and keep His commandments” (65).  If one did not, he would “…answer for [himself] on Judgement Day” (65). In turn, he was expected to teach these values not only to his wife and children, but also to his servants. However, these values were not to be taught through abuse or violence, but rather through love and by example. Throughout the document there was an emphasis on maintaining the social hierarchy already imbedded within the culture, especially with the emphasis on the importance of both priests and the Tsar. The Domostroi notes to “Always approach bishops eagerly and offer them the honor that is due… Fall at their feet and obey them in everything, as God commanded” (69). Regarding the Tsar, one was expected to “Fear the Tsar and serve him faithfully… Do not say anything false to him, but tell the truth, deferentially, as though you [speak] to God Himself” (71). Throughout the document, explicitly stated within each section were the expectations for Christian individuals and then subsequently the rewards and punishments for adhering to or disobeying these mandates. In addition, another way this order was maintained was through the emphasis on helping others less fortunate than oneself. By encouraging people to donate what they could to the poor, there was no emphasis on rising socially, but rather on staying where you were, and helping those poorer than you. By applying this mentality to the social hierarchy, this document allowed the nobility to maintain order. The culture of fear emphasized not only applied to God and His wrath, but also to the clergy and Tsar.

Another part of the Domostroi lays the rules of savoir vivre attached to hosting events. This section possessed two main parts. The first described the manner in which a priest should be received on holy days. The host was the master of his home and in charge of preparing, inviting, and offering food, while the guests had to show humility and respect. The priests invited were supposed to perform the ritual appropriate for the occasion. The priest had to pray for the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, the members of the clergy and finally “all that is profitable to the man of the house, his wife, children, and servants” hinting the role genders played in the society. It is also interesting to point out that the host had to invite as many priests as possible; it might suggest that such actions were also used to show one’s wealth as well as nobility. The second section regarded the behavior to possess should one invite guests. It demonstrated that not only the host was in charge of the preparation, and conducting the gathering, but that it was also his role to respect God through the evening’s interactions. It was the host’s responsibility that guest behaved appropriately, eat and drink enough to honor God, but not too much. This chapter also used fear as the method of choice to convince its reader. Shall you guest misbehave or utter blasphemy and food will turn into dung in their mouths, angels will report your actions to the Devil as opposed to God and “such deeds will stand on Judgment Day.”

Similarly latter passages of The Domostroi bring that culture of fear to the daily religious lives of the people. Men were told that they should attend church services daily. And women should go as they are able and have their husbands permission. Church goers were instructed to stand like pillars while praying “with fear and trembling, with sighs and tears, {turning the eyes of your body towards the abyss}”(13). Fortunately there were ways to make amends, unceasing prays for long periods of time was said to allow the holy spirit to enter your body. A good priest was also considered an acceptable remedy. A priest was to be held in fear when you come to him in love to confess your sins. This fear was doubtlessly preached throughout Russia and was a significant part of every true christian’s life. The father was taught by the church and he taught his family what they said. That adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and slanderers will not possess the kingdom of God.

The discussion of daily life and family relationships shows the importance of children in families and society.  Parents were expected to care for and protect their children or be ridiculed by their neighbors.  These relationships were also highly gendered, as mothers were responsible for their daughter’s instruction in female crafts and fathers were responsible for teaching their son a specific trade.  Education was considered important because it made the daughter or son more marriageable, thus enabling families to improve their social position through their children.  The same concept applies for the establishment of a dowry, which was considered a father’s responsibility.  The culture of fear began early in children’s education, even before the children started learning themselves.  Parents that failed to instruct their children away from sin would pay the price on Judgment Day and be publicly shamed, possibly having their house dishonored and paying a fine to the government.  As part of their education, children were taught to fear God, but they were also taught to fear their parents.  The Domostroi references biblical passages that advised fathers beating their sons so that they might behave properly, and there is little mention of affection between parents and children (96).  Even the discussion of caring for parents in old age is framed in terms of cleansing sins instead of familial love.  It is clear from these chapters that the level of respect between family members was a means of establishing social position and proving one’s religiosity and merit to the community.