The Domostroi (Chapters 50-67)


In terms of food, large estates had a wide range in diet. The upper-class ate nearly every type of meat imaginable: chicken, pork, swan, chipmunk, elk, hare, duck, mutton, goose, etc. They also ate many different types of fish. Grains consisted of barley, kasha, bread, and even noodles. For fruits and vegetables, the upper-class ate cabbage, turnips, various types of melons, apples, and berries. They drank different variations of mead, made with honey, spices, or berries. Servants’ diets were more restricted. Staples included cabbage, various types of soups and porridges, and kasha. On Sundays and other holy days, servants were allowed turnovers, jellies and pancakes. Their beer was “second-grade,” although on Sundays servants could drink ale.

If the master of the house hosted a feast, the steward had to supervise the kitchen and bakery. The steward also had to assign other servants to different stations both to serve and supervise the guests to ensure that they did not become too drunk or steal any of the master’s belongings. After the feast, the steward was in charge of counting how much food and drink had been consumed, as well as counting up the silver and dishes to make sure none had been stolen. He then had to report these numbers to the master.

This background on food and feasts grants insight into the diets and values of sixteen-century Russians. The Domostroi specifies that the upper-class would eat not just meat, but kidneys, giblets, gizzards, tongue, necks, and joints, etc. People ate nearly every part of the animal. On one hand, this information suggests that their diets were sustainable because they left very little waste. On the other hand, it suggests that food may have been scarce at times; consequently, people had to eat every part of the animal in order to survive. Furthermore, the different diet listed for servants reveals that social classes determined what people ate. In general, the upper-class ate a protein-heavy diet, whereas the servant staples were grains and vegetables. Finally, the description of the feast indicates that theft was relatively common at gatherings. The fact that the servants had to patrol the guests and count the silver after the meal implies that guests often brought home goods from the hosts’ household, and the hosts tried to avoid such practices.


The Domostroi very clearly states the tasks that the servants are supposed to carry out and the proper manner of performing them. Chapters fifty-five to fifty-seven outline the ways that a servant would store equipment, treat the animals, and deal with excess food. Chapter fifty-five states how and where to store clothes, hunting gear, horse-riding gear, and used goods (such as building materials and tools) in the household barn. Fifty-six and seven detail the storage of hay in a barn, the proper treatment of animals, the storage of wood, and the disposal of food scraps. Some of the most interesting points in these chapters are the instructions to servants to record all stored items, to save food scraps and feed animals with them, and the instruction to the house master to check the progress of the servants every night.

Chapter fifty-nine details how a house master should reward a servant who does his job well and its inverse. The master should treat good servants well by giving them better food and drink, having them sit with you at meals, and verbal encouragements. If a servant is bad, the master should verbally reprimand him in front of all the other servants and he should physically beat him if he offends repeatedly or in a particularly bad manner. In addition, it states that the female maids are the responsibility of the mistress of the house. Chapter sixty states that the master of the house should audit servants who are buying for the house every week (or he should have his son do it). If the master finds the servant doing his job well and happily, he should reward him, but if he finds the servant working poorly, then he should rebuke him. If the servant cheats him, then he should fine the servant monetarily, and if the servant continues to do his tasks poorly, the master should send him away.

Chapter sixty-three details the proper preservation of food. It states that servants should clean food properly and they should check it often to ensure that it does not spoil. Drinks are to be stored in ice and refilled often. Clothing should also be checked often, and spoiled food must be disposed of. Food in danger of spoiling should be fed to animals or given to the poor.

These chapters of the Domostroi tell us how advanced the storage and maintenance abilities were at the time. Also, they give us insight into the running of the household.

Management of the Estate

The life of a master was not all luxury. Although they enjoyed many more indulgences than the common man, they had their share of duties as well. The master of the estate was responsible for giving orders to the steward to carry out. Everything, down to the drinks served and the items on the menu at feasts, was his choice. Following a feast, the master would follow up with the steward to check that everything was in order, and then punish or reward the servants according to the quality of their work. The mistress had responsibilities as well, such as checking all of the food that was to be served to the family. Every morning the master and the mistress would check the locks on all of the gates and doors around the estate, and check for theft if a lock was left undone or broken. Every night he himself would check all of the storage rooms, barns, and stables for quality of the inventory within.

Every night the master would also go around the estate and check that all fires had been properly extinguished. All stoves where expected to have a floor beneath them, and a non-flammable front to stop any sparks from flying out. Areas around the stove were supposed to be cleared of any clutter that could either kindle a fire, or get in the way of any people attempting to put one out. Additionally, the courtyard and garden should have had wells, and if they did not then they were expected to keep water handy. This demonstrates the fear that the people of the time had of fires, which were a reoccurring problem in Moscow at the time, as most of their building were made of wood.

Several aspects of religious life were present in this section as well. The estate observed many fast days, and had special meals assigned to both the upper and lower class for such occasions. The master was expected to care for his servants and the peasants under his care, giving them food, drink, and clothing, and always be aware of any injury or neediness amongst them. In doing this, they were supposedly pleasing God so that they might be given a place in heaven.

The estate was advised not to let their taxes build up. If they paid them gradually and ahead of time then their family would be happy, secure and well trusted. If the estate took too long to pay back taxes they would have to pay double, and if they took to long to pay back loans they would have to pay an additional fine.