Exploring The Code of Law of 1649

The excerpts from The Code of Law of 1649 (Ulozhenie) corroborate what we have been exploring in class. Following the Time of Troubles, which lasted from 1598 to 1613, Russia’s government changed the way that it treated its people. Because of the Social period during the Time of Troubles the government understood the power of the people and the need to keep them happy. Along with this understanding came mistrust. The government became rightly afraid of uprising and tighter hold on the people of Russia ensued.

As can be expected some of the most prominent codes regarded the church and the Tsar. Treasonous talk involving the Tsar or the government and insolence towards the church was unacceptable. The government and the church were both gaining power while peasants became even more controlled. Laws became most specific and calculated, as did the corresponding punishments. The laws regarding peasant travel became stricter and even spread to other parts of the class system. This was partially caused by Russian Orthodox Church’s fear of other religions and thus reluctance to let people travel to other countries. More severe punishments including Capital and corporal punishment became routine. “Death without mercy” was one of the most common punishments in the law code. Trials were more specific and people could not be punished for the mistakes of their family as long as they were not aware of the rules being broken. Property was still seen as very important and was something that could be taken away as a form of punishment. The forgery of documents became a serious problem along with the issue of counterfeit money. The falsifying of important possessions is not unusual. With the relatively new prevalence of money and documentation comes the need for laws against forgery. All of the laws in The Code of Law of 1649 came about because at some point they were being broken.


How did the people of Russia react to these laws? Were they obeyed? How can we tell if they were used in the society?

The Systematization of Seventeenth-Century Russia

The excerpts from the Ulozhenie of 1649 indicated the continued centralization and bureaucratization of Russian government. Chapters five and six assert the state’s control over certain aspects of citizens’ daily lives such as currency and the ability to travel outside of Russia. We saw the start of the establishment of bureaucratic processes in the Sudebnik of 1497. The law code included many clauses pertaining to things such as payment of judicial officials, the proper process for slave manumission, and the documentation necessary in order to pursue a criminal case against another person. The Ulozhenie appears to follow the same trend in concerning itself with issues outside of the typical crimes of murder and theft which were almost exclusively featured in the earlier Pravda Russkaia. The centralization of government inevitably breeds a larger bureaucracy as it is necessary to the functioning of a more complex state and it is clearly shown in the excerpts from the Ulozhenie. The roots of the law code lie in the chaotic “time of troubles” which occurred thirty years prior. The Sudebnik of 1497 was a reaction to the disruptive occupancy of the Mongols as it attempted to re-establish Russians control over Russia; the Ulozhenie is similar in that it appears to be an attempt by the government to re-establish order following an extremely turbulent and lawless time.

Ivan’s reign of terror established the slaughter of people based on things as insignificant as being related to a disloyal person. People could be executed if someone in their family betrayed the crown three generations earlier. The Ulozhenie actively tries to combat these kinds of tactics by stating that if one has no knowledge of their family member’s betrayal then they should not be punished as a traitor. The excerpts do not show any signs of outright abuses of power by the state, but the punishments for crimes are severe. Execution is the chosen punishment for something as intangible as “think[ing] maliciously about the sovereign’s health.” The document also shows a partiality towards public displays of punishments in order to instill fear in the rest of the population. This was a central theme in the Sudebnik as well and it is a sign that the government is taking control back by force; something that may be necessary after such a disorganized and non-regulated period in Russian history.


What is the significance of giving a specific form of execution for the crime of altering the content of coinage?

Why would the state be so concerned with people traveling out of the country?

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?

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