The Free Serfs


These law codes follow the emancipation of the serfs causing much of the information and prevalence to revolve around this event. The redistribution of land and property as well as the way it should be distributed is frequently discussed throughout all the codes. This is not surprising as with the freeing of the serfs, a huge section of the population, comes the problem of property dispersal across the country. The nobles of Russia previously owned and controlled a huge majority of the property in Russia. The freeing of the serfs does not take away the noble lands but it does change the way in which they are controlled.

Also discussed are the management and help that are involved in charity work. A new appreciation for helping those less fortunate is notable in the codes. The creation of institutions specifically for this task shows the awareness of this problem not just in Russian society but also in the government. Economic interests are also more prominent in these codes. Smaller villages and towns are becoming more involved in the economic structure of Russia.

How did the introduction of the economic world influence the ideals and minds of the Russian peasants? Did the international influence brought with trade accelerate the emancipation of the serfs?

How did nobles react to the emancipation of the slaves? How quickly were these new ideas accepted?





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

Building a State in Post-Kievan Society

As Kiev was declining in power, Novgorod was growing and becoming more powerful, evolving into a “’merchant republic’” ((Kaiser and Marker, 84)) (Kaiser and Marker, 84). In Novgorod, princely power existed, but was limited, as seen in The First Treaty of Novgorod with Tver’ Grand Prince Iaroslave Iaroslavich.   This specific treaty lists a number of rules the prince is to follow when in power; it is interesting to note that the majority of the rules deal with land and property rights displaying the importance of land at this time. In Southwest Rus’, the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle provides insight to a different form of princely power; instead of princes in Southwest Rus’ the boyars fought for power.  Unlike The First Treaty of Novgorod however, the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle does not discuss the importance of land and property but rather the important role power plays in the creation of the state. In Northeast Rus’, The second Testament of Moscow Grand Prince Dmitrii Donskoi displays the importance of property but also provides insight to what kind of roles women had at this time. For example, Donskoi provides an ample amount of land and villages for his princess but he constantly repeats the importance of the princess in his son’s lives; she is to have the last say and the sons are to listen to her.


What can the role of property in these documents tell us about the importance of property or land at this time?


What can the role of Donskoi’s wife tell us about gender roles at the time? Can we claim that all women had an important role in society or only women in the princely, upper class?

State-Building in Post-Kievan Rus’

These readings illustrate the diverging types of states that developed after the fall of Kiev, and geography is a main factor in the separation of different governments.  Novgorod and the north attempted to establish restrictions to princely power and set up a system of elections and assemblies to limit the influence of the elites.  In the southwest, the elites had more power than the prince, who was subject to the will of the boyars.  Finally, in Moscow and the northeast, princely power grew and became more entrenched as land rights were transformed into personal property.  These documents demonstrate the way in which each area was reevaluating their relationship with the state, and this was responsible for bringing about new requirements for good rulers that protected the new form of government.

On thing that stood out in all three readings was the relationship of Christianity to the state.  In the Treaty of Novgorod, the document protecting property rights had to be sealed with a kiss to the cross so that the prince would be held accountable to God if he broke the treaty.  In the Galician Chronicle, the underlying message was that good rulers are Christian because God favored the devout and helped them to achieve their status.  Finally, in the will of Dmitrii Donskoi, he condemned any that violated the testament to be judged and punished by God.  Because Christianity had already spread throughout Rus by the time of the fall of Kiev, it seems that it played a much larger role in the state than it had at the beginning of the Kievan state.  Whereas princely law and church law were once separate, now we seem them becoming combined.  The separation between church and state jurisdiction is now blurred as things once under state jurisdiction, like private property, are now answerable to God.

Comparing American and French Revolutionary Documents

Though the American and French documents we studied were written with the idea of change in mind and were somewhat inspired by each other, they had different views on property and the function of such. Property was a very important aspect to take into account because these documents were not only directed towards the public, but towards the higher power (ie. the government) that would end up reading them.

The American Declaration of Independence put a distinct focus on property. The majority of the document listed the negative actions that the King inflicted on the people, and in doing so the reader can see that instead of the citizens being treated like citizens, they were essentially the property of the King. An example of this is how he “[cut] off our Trade with all parts of the world,” which was obviously a huge decision, but not one that the citizens had any say in. The action reminds me of a parent scolding a child; having the right to trade taken away and the isolation that comes with such is almost like being grounded. Property is also addressed in a more typical manner- in the context of owning something- when it is mentioned that “[he imposed] Taxes on us without our Consent.” By being so dominating and overbearing, the King makes it clear that he had total control over his governed people.

On the other hand, the French documents of independence put a slightly different twist on the concept of property. While the American document mentioned taxes being imposed without any warning, the French government actually gave the citizens a say in such (through a vote), though they only did so because they knew the odds would never be in the favor of the citizens. This led the writer to call property an “an inviolable and sacred right” and mention that it should only ever be taken away if it was legally determined to do so. With some historical context we know that the French rulers oppressed their citizens just as much as the English ones did, but such was not implicitly state as it was in the American Declaration of Independence. Personally I think this lack of specificity strengthens the French document; saying less rather than more is often powerful.

In The Declaration of Independence the King not only abused his power through raising taxes, but through treating his people like property, while The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen focused less on listing complaints, and more on introducing solutions.