Changing Areas of Focus

Throughout this semester law codes help show the changes occurring throughout Russian history. Written under the rule of Aleksei the Ulozehnie of 1649 differs greatly from previous law codes such as the Sudebnik of 1497. The Ulozehnie is organized into sections like previous law codes; however, the order of the articles reveals important shifts in the structure of the Russian state. Article I of the Ulozehnie protects the dignity and sanctity of the Russian Orthodox Church. The law code prohibits heresy, harming church officials, bringing political complaints to church services, fighting and/or murdering members of the congregation, and other acts that may interfere with a normal service. ((( Violators of these laws often received capital punishment – showing how closely the state protected the church. In fact, the Ulozehni depicts an overlapping of the church and state, one where the Tsar’s word reflects the will of God. ((Article I, Section 9, The Sudebnik protected the Russian Orthodox Church but never with the same vigor or priority.

Instead of focusing on the church, the first articles of the Sudebnik outlined court procedures. ((( One finds legal procedures located in first in Article X of the Ulozehnie. ((( Written during a time of internal turmoil and impending foreign invasion, the Ulozehnie addresses treason and the Prince’s safety in Article II. Twenty-two articles prohibit conspiring against the Prince, knowing of a conspiracy but not reporting it, and aiding outside powers against the Prince. ((( Again, a traitor received capital punishment after a trial confirmed his or her guilt. The number of these codes focusing on the Prince’s safety allude to the turmoil and instability under Aleksei. The Sudebnik outlaws murder and violence but never addresses the security of the Prince or treason. (((

Considering the content of the Ulozehnie’s first two articles, who would you say is the primary audience of these law codes?


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?

Russian Court Processes in the 15th Century

Even after the Mongols retreated from the Rus lands, the economy and culture were still experiencing much turbulence. Officials attempted to rebuild their society from the devastation, and in our readings we have evidence of their attempts to restructure the legal system in the fifteenth century.

The Novgorod Judicial Charter shows us that the archbishop had power to prosecute crimes with his own church court in addition to the mayor of Novgorod’s court. In general, we see improvement in this document compared to the Pravda Russkaia; the details of the jobs of the court are more detailed and the money system for winning a trial has adapted to accommodate the accused and who gets a specific percentage of the money. ((Kaiser and Marker  109-110))

The Muscovite Judgment Charter gives us an idea of the law system in the Moscow region, a city gaining more importance in the recent centuries. It speaks a lot of disputes of land and how these were settled. Normally witnessed were brought in and gave oral testaments based on their memory of the land. These men seemed to be distinguished and longtime members of the village and were therefore trusted in their testimonies. ((Kaiser and Marker 114-115))

Ann Kleimola adds to this analysis of court processes by saying that written evidence was seen as secondly important. Charters, deeds, and other types of documents were used as evidence, but were seen as less reliable because they could be misplaced due to theft or fires. She also makes the case that since the church got involved with court processes, different religious acts were seen as very important, mainly kissing the Grand Prince’s cross and carrying icons to replace pagan practices. ((Kaiser and Marker 119-120))


How did the importance of the Orthodox Church change both laws and court processes since its arrival? What does this tell us of the Church’s importance in day to day life?

Why were oral testaments and witnesses the most important type of evidence for court cases?

What do the different types of written documents tell us about the people and the culture?


Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.