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?


Putting An End To Feudal Strife

The unification of Russian lands around Moscow and putting an end to the feudal strife was the key to finally vanquishing the Mongol yoke in 1480. The desire of Russian princes to boost Russian economy in a centralized state is reflected in the new codes of law. Both the Novgorod Judicial Charter and the Moscovite Sudebnik of 1497 provide the foundation for land ownership and the legal guide to protect it in the court of law.  This is a big leap forward compared to The Iaroslav’s Statute and Pravda Russkaia which mostly concentrated on judging most common crimes, as well as violations of moral and family values. The new documents describe in detail the structure of the court procedures to determine a person’s right to land. The figure of the judge appears, but still remains a passive force during court. The parties fighting for land have to assume the active role, produce written documents and witnesses , while the judges act as supervisors hoping that the decision would become obvious in the course of the trial. A flaw from the standpoint of contemporary litigation, this was still a great step forward in developing the legal structure of Russian society. An accent on the role of written documents presented as evidence and certifying the right to land is also an important new development. Reducing the freedom of peasants by binding them to land is a controversial measure that reduced their freedom, but at that point of time it seems to have positively contributed to developing the economy of the Russian state in post- Mongol time.