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?


Exploring The Code of Law of 1649

The excerpts from The Code of Law of 1649 (Ulozhenie) corroborate what we have been exploring in class. Following the Time of Troubles, which lasted from 1598 to 1613, Russia’s government changed the way that it treated its people. Because of the Social period during the Time of Troubles the government understood the power of the people and the need to keep them happy. Along with this understanding came mistrust. The government became rightly afraid of uprising and tighter hold on the people of Russia ensued.

As can be expected some of the most prominent codes regarded the church and the Tsar. Treasonous talk involving the Tsar or the government and insolence towards the church was unacceptable. The government and the church were both gaining power while peasants became even more controlled. Laws became most specific and calculated, as did the corresponding punishments. The laws regarding peasant travel became stricter and even spread to other parts of the class system. This was partially caused by Russian Orthodox Church’s fear of other religions and thus reluctance to let people travel to other countries. More severe punishments including Capital and corporal punishment became routine. “Death without mercy” was one of the most common punishments in the law code. Trials were more specific and people could not be punished for the mistakes of their family as long as they were not aware of the rules being broken. Property was still seen as very important and was something that could be taken away as a form of punishment. The forgery of documents became a serious problem along with the issue of counterfeit money. The falsifying of important possessions is not unusual. With the relatively new prevalence of money and documentation comes the need for laws against forgery. All of the laws in The Code of Law of 1649 came about because at some point they were being broken.


How did the people of Russia react to these laws? Were they obeyed? How can we tell if they were used in the society?

Comparing the Sudebnik and the Ulozhenie

The Law Code of 1649 (Ulozhenie) ((( shows us how life has changed for the Muscovites since the Sudebnik of 1497   (( ))  written under the rule of Ivan III. This document, written during Alexis I’s reign, is significantly longer and more detailed than its predecessors, including topics topic’s that we haven’t seen before such as permits to travel to other countries, tolls, ferries, and bridges, and even illegal taverns. There are many differences, but it is crucial to mention the first and second articles, Blasphemers and Heretics and The Sovereign’s Honor and How to Guard his Health respectively. There is some mention of bishops and patriarchs dealing justice on those who offended them in previous documents, but in Article 1 of the Ulozhenie the state punishes blasphemers and anyone who interrupts a church liturgy with whipping or even death. This illustrates how truly the church and state become one after Mikhail Romanov instated his imprisoned father as the Patriarch of Moscow and how it has continued this way through Alexis’s time.

Article 2 is especially important because it gives many details about traitors who wish to do harm to the Sovereign or even think about harming him. If a man is investigated and is found to have “malicious thought” against the Tsar, he should be executed. This control of thought is very reminiscent of Big Brother and the fact that the sovereign desires total control over his subjects illustrates how there must have been little control over the population at this time. Acts against the Tsar are not even mentioned in the Sudebnik, almost as if no one would dare harm their Grand Prince. This new need for control is certainly valid, given this was written after the oprichnina and the Time of Troubles. People were starting to question this idea of hierarchy and rebellions were becoming more and more common, so this is Alexei’s way to halt rebellion in its tracks. This is especially important for him to do since his family was still new to the throne and some people, especially the boyars, didn’t see him as a valid Tsar.


1. How has the idea of owning land and property shifted from the Pravda Russkaia and the Sudebnik to the Ulozhenie?

2. The Sudebnik talks a lot about the minute details of fines whereas the Ulozhenie practically doesn’t mention it  at all. What do you think is the reason behind this?

Ulozhenie: Difference Maker or Part of a Trend?

In Chapter Twelve of Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s, Daniel Kaiser and Gary Marker decide to include the perspective of an author (Richard Hellie) who thought of the Ulozhenie as the defining moment in the history of serfs in Russia. Hellie’s perspective, while interesting, leaves me with additional questions.

The most intriguing part of Hellie’s point-of-view was that his words seem to create a sharp division in Russian history, a division between pre-1649 and post-1649 (since 1649 was the year that the Ulozhenie was written). He did not view the law code as part of a pattern of regressing rights for peasants, but as something which all seemed to happen at once (Kaiser and Marker 181). His view is certainly different from some thoughts on the reduction in peasant rights over time; Kaiser and Marker even said that one school of thought on the disappearance of peasant rights was that it was a long process which began long before 1649 with actions such as the restriction of travel outside of St. George’s Day (Kaiser and Marker 180).

Also interesting was how Kaiser and Marker did not include any documents which introduced the point-of-view that the events over many decades was a bigger factor than any governmental law code. They had a document which addressed how the institution of slavery developed in Muscovy over the course of many decades (namely, during the “Time of Troubles”), but they didn’t do the same with serfdom and how that gradually developed in the decades leading up to the Ulozhenie in 1649.

I am indeed left with multiple questions. Here are the questions I have:

Do you believe that the restrictions on serfdom were a gradual process, or was it something that mostly came out of the Ulozhenie in 1649?

Why would Kaiser and Marker not give more time to the point-of-view that serfdom was an institution which developed over many years, and not mostly from one law code?

On a note unrelated to my response here, how were these masters able to keep control of their peasants when they were so outnumbered by peasants? According to the reading, ninety percent of the Russian population consisted of peasants at one point; this is a percentage so high that it must have been hard to control all of them.


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