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. 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