Russian Serfdom Conditions and Attempts to Reform (1801-1861)

Itoga, Mary
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Serfdom in Russia had replaced slavery as the form of servile work and had combined such classes as slaves, insolvent debtors, and “free” agricultural laborers into one class of serfs. With the Code of 1649 the once all important distinction between “old settlers” and “new peasants” was then erased and consequently all tillers of the soil and their progeny were considered as serfs. The peasants’ right to move as limited to only St. George’s Day, which signified the end of the agricultural year. However, no cry of injustice was raised against the loss of their personal freedom. This binding of the person to the soil was further tightened when Peter the Great introduced the soul tax in 1724. Now the state had an effective mechanism which grouped the people into socially recognized, tax-paying classes. And when Peter the Great made state service an obligation for the gentry for their entire adult life, he sweetened this compulsory duty with his recognition of the nobles’ estates as hereditary. In law and fact the noble landlord became a hereditary serf-owner.
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