What is a Russian?

At the very beginning of this course, we learned of the Scythians, a group of non-Slavic people living in what we know as Russia. Russia’s origins were never purely “Russian” for archeological evidence revealed many groups such as the Scythians in early Rus’. Fast forward four hundred years and Russia has expanded vastly. It has control of the Polish kingdom on its West side, and southern control in parts of Middle Asia. With this expansion of the Russian territory came along new demographics in Russia, in certain places, outnumbering the number of Russians in various towns and cities. It was at this time, the Census of 1897 started to collect demographic data on who lived in the Russian Empire.

The census revealed multi-ethnic, speaking, and religious groups such as the Poles, Jews, Muslims, Tartars, Finns, and Germans. Not to mention persons of Ukrainian or Belarus ethnicity who were considered to be Russian. Usually one’s ethnicity was correlated to native tongue and religion. For example Poles and Lithuanians were exclusively Roman Catholic. This allowed the Russian state to create a unified identity for many of groups because of the correlating language and religion. However this was more difficult to determine amongst populations in Middle Asia because of how common it was to be bilingual in these areas.

For the most part, a large proportion of the Russian population was not affected by these various ethnicities and religions. Many Russians lived in rural areas while non-Russians allocated to cities. Even though Russians had control over kingdoms such as Poland and Finland, by only replacing the autocratic figures and military, the native nobility was able to live on in rural areas, thus the populations at the borders of Russia remained non-“russified”. Hence the socio-economic standings of many under the old rule remained with Russian rule. For example, even if a noble Polish man were poor, the Russian empire allowed for his status to remain, largely concentrated areas of the used-to-be kingdoms’ natives. As Russian modernization and industrialization occurred, Russians began to migrate and took on industrial jobs. At this point Russians were entering spaces of foreigners and taking hold of the industrial jobs provides.


How is nobility seen as universal across ethnicities? Why do you think non-Russians were not subject to the Table of Ranks system?

Works Cited

Kappeler, Andreas. (Translated by Alfred Clayton) “The Late Tsarist Multi-Ethnic Empire between Modernization and Tradition.” Longman, 2001. Chapter 8