Modern Customs and Ancient Laws of Russia :
Lecture IV

Modern Customs and Ancient Laws of Russia
by Maxime Kovalevsky

Lecture III Contents Lecture V
Economic Treatises

Old Russian Folkmotes

It is a common saying among the Russian Conservatives, who have lately been dignified in France by the name of "Nationalists," that the political aspirations of the Liberals are in manifest contradiction with the genius and with the historical past of the Russian people.

Sharing these ideas, the Russian Minister of Public instruction Count Delianov, a few years ago ordered the Professors of Public Law and of Legal History to make their teaching conform to a programme in which Tzarism, the unlimited power of the Russian emperors, was declared to be a truly national institution.

Some of the professors who refused to comply with this order were called upon to resign, others were simply dismissed from their chairs. The question I am about to discuss in this and the following lecture is, whether this theory bears the test of history. Is it true that Russian autocracy is a thoroughly national institution, the roots of which are found in the remotest period of Russian history? Is it the fact that no folkmotes and no representative institutions ever existed in the eastern part of Europe, and that the Byzantine principle of an unlimited monarchical power, having no other source but its divine right derived from God himself and being responsible to no one but Heaven, has been always recognised by my countrymen?

I shall begin by saving that, had such been the case, the historical development of Russia would form a monstrous anomaly to the general evolution of political institutions, at least among people of Aryan blood.

It is not before an Oxford audience that I need recall this well-established fact, that in earlier times the assembly of the people, the Folkmote, shared in the exercise of sovereign power side by side with the elected head of the nation, whatever may have been his title. Professor Freeman and Sir Henry Maine have left no possibility of doubt on this point; the first, when treating of the Greeks, Romans, and Germans; the second, in relation to the ancient Celtic population of Ireland. The barrier of language, of which Sir Henry Maine so often complained to me, prevented these two eminent scholars from completing their comparative study of early political organisation by a minute investigation of that of the medieval Slavs; but recent researches, carried on both in Russia and in Poland, Bohemia and Servia, permit us to extend to Slavonic nations the general conclusions which have been arrived at by those English scholars, who have taken as their basis a careful study of Hellenic, German, and Celtic law.

Byzantine chronicles, which contain the earliest information on the social and political condition of the assertion that the the Slavs, are unanimous in Slavonic people knew nothing of a strongly centralised autocratic power. "From the remotest period," says Procopius, a writer of the sixth century, "the Slavs were known to live in democracies; they discussed their wants in popular assemblies or folkmotes" (chapter xiv of his "Gothica seu Bellum Gothicum"). Another authority, the Byzantine Emperor Mauriquius, when speaking of the Slavs, writes as follows: "The Slavs like liberty; they cannot bear unlimited rulers, and are not easily brought to submission" ("Strategicum," chap. xi). The same language is used also by the Emperor Leo. "The Slavs," says he, "are a free people, strongly opposed to any subjection" ("Tactica seu de re militari," ch. xviii. 99).

Passing from these general statements to those which directly concern some definite Slavonic people, we will first of all quote the Latin Chronicles of Helmold and Dithmar of Merseburg, both of the eleventh century, in order to give an idea of the political organisation of the Northern Slavs dwelling on the south-eastern shore of the Baltic. Speaking of one of their earliest chiefs named Mistiwoi, Helmold says that he, the chief, once complained to the whole assembly of the Slavs of an injury he had received (Convocatis omnibus Slavis qui ad orientem habitant, intimavit eis illatam sibi contumeliam).

The Russian scholars who have made a special study of the history of those Slavonic tribes who were so early Germanised, give us a description of the proceedings and functions of their popular assemblies. The folkmote was convened in an open place. In Stettin the market-place was furnished for this purpose with a kind of stand from which the speakers addressed the multitude. The folkmotes were not periodical assemblies, but were convened as often as there was some question of State which needed public discussion.

It is well known that the privilege enjoyed in our days by the majority was quite unknown to the primitive folkmotes. In early times the decisions of the people were unanimous. This does not mean that it was always easy to arrive at a general agreement. Opinions were certainly as divided then as they are now. What is meant is only this -- that, in case of difference of opinion, the minority was forced to acquiesce in that of the majority, unless it could succeed in persuading the majority that they were in the wrong. In the Chronicle of Dithmar of Merseburg the "unanimous vote" is distinctly stated to be a peculiarity of the primitive Slavonic folkmotes:

"Unanimi consilio," says this author, "ad placitum suimet necessaria discutientes in rebus efficiendis omnes concordant." In case some one refused to acquiesce in the common decision, he was beaten with rods. If any opposition to the vote of the majority arose after the assembly had been held, the dissentient lost all his property, which was either taken from him or destroyed by fire, unless he was ready to pay a certain amount of money, varying according to his rank. The unanimous vote is very often mentioned by contemporary chroniclers, who for this purpose employ the following expressions: "Remota controversia," or "quasi unus homo."(1*) The matters discussed at these early Slavonic folkmotes were of a great variety: the election or the dethroning of a prince, decisions about going to war or making peace, are more than once mentioned by contemporary authors as the direct work of these assemblies.

If we turn our attention to the study of the earliest period in the history of Bohemian political institutions, we shall see the development of facts similar or quasi-similar to those just mentioned. The Bohemian folkmote, the "snem," as it was called, is known to Latin chroniclers under the names of conventus, generale colloquium, or generalis curia. Persons of different estates or orders constituted the assembly. The chronicles mention, as a rule, the presence of the majores natu, of the proceres and comites, as also that of the higher clergy, in clero meliores; but in addition we find at these meetings, at least as far back as the end of the eleventh century, the common people, the populus, Bohemorum onmes, Bohemicae gentis magni et parvi, nobiles et ignobiles. In the year 1055 the people are especially mentioned as taking part in the election of a duke, and in 1068 and 1069 as engaged in the nomination of a bishop. In 1130 the Duke Sobeslav convened an assembly of 3000 persons, nobiles et ignobiles, to judge those who had conspired against him. At a later period, after the beginning of the twelfth century, the common people disappear from these assemblies, and the proceres and majores natu remained alone with the high clergy to discuss the affairs of the State. But in the early days with which we are at present concerned the constitution of the Bohemian snem was not very unlike that of an ordinary folkmote, to which all classes of society were equally summoned. Like the folkmotes of the Baltic Slavs, the Bohemian generalis conventus was not a periodical assembly. Like them also, its decisions were the result of a unanimous consent, a fact which is shown by the contemporary documents, when they state that this and that matter have been settled at the assembly "communio consilio et voluntate pari" (Cosmus of Prague, ii. 87), or even more explicitly, "de consensu omnium," "unanimiter."

The election first of the duke and later on of the king, the nomination of the bishop, the confirmation or rejection of the laws proposed by the king and his council, the judicial decision of certain exceptionally important cases, such were the regular functions of the Bohemian folkmote. You will have no difficulty in seeing that these functions are the same as those of the popular assemblies of the Baltic Slavs.

In Poland, the folkmotes, known under the name of congregationes generales, sometimes also under that of conciones, coltoquia, or consilia, were in early days composed not only of the higher orders of society, but also of the common people. The Latin Chronicle of Gallus mentions an occasion on which king Boleslaus "imprimis majores et seniores civitatis, deinde totum populum in concionem advocavit." The meaning of this quotation leaves no doubt as to the popular character of these early Polish political assemblies. In no Slavonic state was this popular character so early lost as in Poland. As early as the beginning of the thirteenth century the higher nobility and clergy, the "milites" and the knights, begin to be the only constitutive parts of the Polish "general council."

The other feature of the primitive folkmote, the unanimous vote, was much better preserved by the Polish parliament. From the earliest times down to the fall of their political independence, the Poles remained faithful to this very incongruous system. The "liberum veto," the right of each member to make null and void by his single opposition the decisions of the entire assembly, became through the interference of foreign States one of the best means of keeping in check the political activity of the nation. By this veto, Russian, Austrian, and Prussian intrigues more than once prevented the passing of laws and measures, which might have preserved the independence of the country. That the liberum veto had its roots in the most remote period of Polish history may be shown by quotations like the following. According to the chronicle of Cromer, the Polish throne had been offered to the half mythical Cracus, "una sententia," i.e., by the unanimous decision of the people, who had, as we know, no other means of manifesting their feeling than the folkmote. The same unanimous consent is mentioned by another chronicle on the occasion of an election which took place in 1194.

The legal power of the Polish general council was identical with that of the Bohemian snem. It elected the chief ruler of the land and entered into written covenants with him; it discussed questions of international policy, expressed its opinion on matters of taxation, gave its sanction to the legal enactments of the king, the so-called statuta and con stitutiones, and from time to time it exercised judicial authority in certain exceptionally important civil cases. In a word, it possessed the same multiplicity of powers which we have noticed when studying the powers of the Bohemian folkmote.

Hitherto we have consulted only the history of the Northern and Western Slavs. Let us now turn to that of the Southern Slavs. The democratic element is less prominent in the constitution of the ancient Servian and Croatian folkmotes. At a very early period the high nobility and clergy took possession of the various powers of the popular assembly. But this does not mean that no documentary evidence has reached us concerning the part which the lower classes of society at least in Croatia, were anciently called upon to play in the political organisation of the country. The old Croatian chronicle explicitly states that in the time of Svonomir, the first elected Croatian chief, the "Ban," the national assembly known in later times under the name of "Sobor," was composed not only of the higher orders (viteze, barune, vlasnike), but also of the common people (puk zemlie). The same common people is mentioned by the Latin chronicle as having had its share in the election of this first Ban, who was chosen "concordi totius cleri et populi electione." This happened in the second half of the eleventh century (1076). During the following centuries the nobility, and among them the higher class of nobles represented by seven Bans, alone had a direct influence on the nomination of the Croatian king. But the memory of old, days, when the people chose their rulers, was still preserved down to the end of the fifteenth century, as may be seen from the following words of a charter issued in 1490 by King Vladislas the second: "Domini, prelati et barones, caeterique pri mores et universi incoloe regni, ad quos scilicet jus eligendi novum regem ex vetustissima regni ipsius liberate et consuetudine devolutum exstiterat... oculos mentis ipsorum in nos conjecerunt."

The texts already quoted establish the fact that like other Slavonic assemblies, the Sobors of Croatia were ignorant of the rights of the majority and insisted on the necessity of a unanimous decision. Expressions like "concordi electione," "omnibus collaudantibus," and the complete absence of any information concerning decisions taken by a majority of voters, leave no doubt on this point. The same texts mention several of the functions which the Sobor was called upon to exercise. and first among these was the election of the political heads of the nation, who might be simple bans or kings. Questions of peace and war were also settled by this assembly.

But the chief occupation of the Sobor was of a legislative character. From time to time the Chronicles state that "many good laws have been made" by this or that assembly, and Professor Bogisic has succeeded in tracing a whole list of the different statutes resulting from their deliberations.

The existence of these national councils did not prevent the people of different localities from meeting in some kind of provincial assemblies, and from exercising in them even legislative functions. An instance of this fact is presented by the island of Vinodol, the inhabitants of which in 1288 met in a kind of local folkmote -- at which certain men were chosen to make a general codification of old laws, the memory of which was still preserved. In this way was formed the celebrated statute of Vinodol, one of the chief sources of information as to the early law of the Southern Slavs.

The Servian States-General, although much less democratic than the Croatian, merit our attention on account of the great influence which they exercised on the management of public affairs. It is true that the Servian Sobor is rather a council of the higher orders, a sort of Anglo-Saxon Witenagemote, than a folkmote or popular assembly. The third estate was not admitted to its meetings either as a body or by representation, and one of the paragraphs of the celebrated code of Stefan Douschan (fourteenth century) even strictly forbids the peasants to meet in political assemblies. But the lower nobility, who afterwards played such a prominent part in the destinies of the Polish nation, regularly sat in those meetings side by side with the king, his council, the superior officers of State, the patriarch, the ecclesiastical synod, and the members of the higher nobility. These orders taken together exercised pretty neatly all the functions of sovereignty. They made legal enactments, such as the code just mentioned, and they were the authors of the different amendments introduced into it in the course of time. They very often elected the king, and sometimes dethroned him. The archbishop and the provincial governors were also chosen by the Sobor, which likewise disposed of the public lands, and discussed the most important matters of civil and ecclesiastical government.

This rapid and rather superficial sketch of the early political institutions of the Slavs, may at least serve to show how considerable was the influence which the higher orders of society, and very often the common people, exercised in the management of the Slavonic State. My necessarily dry exposition of ancient chronicles and charters, cannot fail to recall the well-known passage in the "Germania" of Tacitus: "De minoribus principes consultant, de majoribus omnes." Like the old Germanic folkmote the Slavonic was a sort of supreme council, convened on certain exceptionally important occasions. During an interregnum all authority passed into its hands, and it was accordingly empowered to choose the future ruler of the land, and to declare under what conditions he was to be admitted to the exercise of the sovereign power. In the ordinary course of public affairs, the folkmote discussed important matters of civil, and in some countries even of ecclesiastical government. It pronounced on questions of war and peace, controlled the exercise of the legislative authority, and was sometimes even directly engaged in the making of new, and the codifying of ancient laws. Although its authority was less prominent in executive and judicial matters, yet it very often exercised the supreme right of dethroning a king, and of judging persons accused of high treason.

When we call to mind these facts, the idea of an early Russian autocracy, admitting of no control on the part of the governed, will certainly appear to us to be in direct contradiction not only of the general evolution of political institutions, but also of its usual form among Slavonic nations. We must refuse to accept an anomaly unless it is established on the authority of well-authenticated historical facts. But no such facts can be produced. The Russian chronicles, in which, from the want of other sources of information, we are obliged to seek for the chief elements of a general theory of ancient Russian political institutions, show us a state of things, which has nothing in common with absolute monarchy. On the first pages of the chronicle attributed to the monk Nestor, the Eastern Slavs are spoken of as possessing a sort of "gens" organisation; "each one living with his kindred, and these kindreds occupying distinct territorial districts." (Kojdo s svoim rodom i na svoich mestech, kojdo vladeiusche rodom svoim.) in the sentence just quoted, the chronicler describes the social organisation of the most enlightened tribe of the Eastern Slavs, the Polians, and immediately afterwards he speaks of three brothers and their sister, who exercised in common some sort of political authority over the tribe. According to this chronicler, the direct descendants of these brothers ruled over the Polians. It is also recorded of the Drevlians, another Slavonic tribe, that it had its own prince, Mal. but the Polians and the Drevlians seem to have been the only tribes living under monarchical rule. The rest of the Slavonic tribes established in Russia are represented to us as having no princes, but as living divided into clans or "gentes," which were often at war one with another (vsta rod na rod), a state of things which at length induced them "to seek a foreign prince (kniaz) to command and judge them according to justice." The establishment of monarchical power thus appears to have been the direct result of a free decision on the part of the people. The chronicle speaks of the tribes, which sent for a foreign prince, as having previously assembled together (snidoschasia vkoupe, sobravschesia). This means that the decision to call in a foreign prince was the work of a folkmote. Such is the first mention we possess of a Russian popular assembly. The facts I have recorded happened in the second half of the ninth century, in the year 862. Alluding to them, the chronicle of Sousdal, under the year 1176, makes the following general statement. "The inhabitants of Novgorod, of Smolensk, of Kiev, and of Poloczk, and of all the principalities (volosti) of Russia, were from the beginning, and are still, in the habit of meeting at folkmotes as at a sort of council." The term employed to designate the folkmote is that of veche from the verb veschat, to announce, to declare. According to the sentence just quoted, the veche may be traced from the oldest period of our national existence. This is directly confirmed, in relation to the Polians, by the following statement: "In the years next following," says Nestor, speaking of the end of the ninth century, "they thought in common (sdoumavsche) and decided to pay to the Chasars a certain tax, the amount of which was one sword from every hearth." The Drevlians are also spoken of by the chronicle as having on one occasion "thought in common with their prince Mal," and decided to slaughter the son of Rurik, Igor. Now, this "thinking in common" of a whole tribe with its political head, can only mean that the prince consulted the folkmote, and with its help arrived at a definite decision.

A peculiar feature of the oldest Russian folkmotes, a feature which totally disappears by the end of the tenth century, is, that they are the assembly of a whole tribe, sometimes even of several tribes, and not of the inhabitants of one single urban district. The Chronicle of Nestor speaks of the Polians, the Drevlians, the Krivichs, the Sever, and such like people, as of persons coming together, consulting one another and "accomplishing certain acts in common." I have already said that these were separate tribes, each one subdivided into kindreds or "gentes" (rodi). Such being the case, the veche of the early days of Russian historical development, was a kind of tribal assembly very like those which Caesar and Tacitus found among the ancient Germans.

With the beginning of the eleventh century, the Russian folkmote or veche acquired a new character, when the thief cities of Russia, the political centres of more or less independent states, obtained their separate assemblies. The chronicles mention on different occasions the veches of Belgorod, of Vladimir in Volhynia, of Berestie, of Riazan, Mourom, and Pronsk, of Smolensk, Poloczk and Koursk, of Rostov, Sousdal, Pereiaslavl and Vladimir on the Kliasm, besides those of Kiev, Novgorod, Pscov, and Viatka.

If we inquire into the internal constitution and functions of the veche, we shall have no difficulty in ascertaining that in both these points the Russian folkmotes did not essentially differ from those of other Slavonic nations.

The chronicles, when they speak of those summoned to these assemblies, briefly note the presence of all the citizens of a definite urban division. Expressions such as the following are also more than once met with in the course of the narrative: "the men of our land," "the whole land of Galich," and so on. Hence, it is evident that we have to deal with a thoroughly democratic assembly. But it does not follow that all the inhabitants of the city were summoned. The veche was not so much an assembly of the whole people as that of the heads of families, or rather of the natural chiefs of Slavonic house communities known to the earliest code of Russia, the pravda of Jaroslav, under the name of "verv."

On several occasions the unknown authors of Russian chronicles seem to imply that the men assembled at the folkmote made certain engagements, not only on their own behalf but also on that of their children. For instance, "the men of Kiev, in folkmote assembled," declare in 1147, that they will fight against the House of Oleg, one of the branches of the dynasty of Rurik, not by themselves alone, but also by their children. This declaration clearly shows that children did not appear at a Russian folkmote, but that their absence was solely caused by their personal dependence on the head of the undivided family. We may, therefore, infer that all those who were not free to dispose of themselves were excluded from the veche; and such was the case as regarded certain members of undivided households and those who had forfeited their liberty through war or debt. In a society based, like the old Russian, on the principle of blood relationship, undivided households must have been numerous, and the fact that the heads of these households were alone summoned naturally diminished the number of persons composing the veche. It may, therefore, be easily understood how a large square such as those on which the princely palaces of Novgorod or of Kiev were built, was quite able to contain an entire assembly, notwithstanding the fact that the citizens were not the only persons admitted to the meetings of the veche, for the suburbs and even the neighbouring townships had the right to have an equal share with them on the management of public affairs. The chronicles very often mention the fact of the "black people," "the smerds," and the so-called "bad peasants" (terms designating the agricultural population of the country) being present at the veche. The urban district was as a rule very large, the lands owned by the citizens in some cases extending to hundreds and even thousands of miles outside the city wall. In order to preserve these widely scattered possessions, the city often built fortresses, which in case of war offered a refuge to the inhabitants of the surrounding country. In time of peace these fortified places answered another purpose; markets were regularly held in them and hence in course of time artisans and merchants were induced to choose them for their settled abode. The population increased day by day, the fortress became surrounded by suburbs, and a new city appeared where originally there had been nothing but a wooden fence with a moat or ditch around it. The inhabitants of this new city had generally the right to appear at the veches of the metropolis, but they usually preferred meeting at assemblies of their own. The roads being had and not always safe, they did not see what was to be gained by a long journey, but chose rather to stay at home and hold their own folkmotes from time to time.

The chronicles of Sousdal seem to imply that the decisions of the local folkmotes did not, as a rule, differ from those of the metropolis. "What has been established by the oldest city, is maintained by its boroughs." Such are the words in which the chronicle expresses the mutual relations of the metropolis and the daughter towns. The real meaning of the sentence is not at all that of dutiful subjection on the part of the new town towards the mother city. The writer merely wishes to suggest the idea of a good understanding between the metropolis and the boroughs it has built. This good understanding was not always maintained, and on more than one occasion the borough came to a decision the reverse of that of the chief city. A similar disagreement occurred more than once between different quarters (konzi) of the same city. Such was often the case at Novgorod, divided as it was into five different administrative districts or wards, which more than once held their own separate folkmotes and opposed the decisions of the general assembly. Such a misunderstanding sometimes ended in open war, the minority refusing to submit to the decision of the majority.

This fact alone shows that the Russian veches admitted no other mode of settling public affairs than that of unanimous decision. It has been already shown that this mode was general amongst Slavonic peoples. A few quotations will prove its existence among the Eastern Slavs. Whenever the chronicler has occasion to speak of one of their decisions he employs such expressions as the following: "It was established by all the oldest and all the youngest men of the assembly that," &c.; "all were unanimous in the desire"; "all thought and spoke as one man," &c.

If unanimity could not be arrived at, the minority was forced to acquiesce in the decision of the greater number, unless it could persuade the members of the majority that they were wrong in their opinion. In both cases the veches passed whole days in debating the same subjects, the only interruptions being free fights in the street. At Novgorod, these fights took place on the bridge across the Volchov, and the stronger party sometimes threw their adversaries into the river beneath. A considerable minority very often succeeded in suspending the measure already voted by the veche, but if the minority was small, its will had soon to yield to open force.

The competence of the Russian folkmote was as wide as that of similar political assemblies among the Western and Southern Slavs. More than once it assumed the right of choosing the chief ruler of the land; but it was not an unrestricted right which they enjoyed, the choice being confined to members of the family of Rurik; for the Russians considered that outside Rurik's dynasty, no one had a right to exercise sovereign power. The folkmote was merely empowered to give its preference to some district line of the house of Rurik, for instance to that directly descending from Vladimir Monomach, from which the veche of Kiev elected its rulers. It was also free to pronounce in favour of a younger member of Rurik's family, notwithstanding the candidature of an older one. The choice made was often in open contradiction of the legal order of succession maintained by the dynasty of Rurik. This order was very similar to the Irish law of tanistry, according to which the Irish crown devolved upon the oldest representative of the reigning family. In practice it generally meant the succession of the deceased's next brother, not that of his eldest son. The strict application of this law of tanistry would have necessitated a constant change in the person of the ruler, not only in Kiev, which was for a long time considered the most important principality of Russia, and which was, therefore, the appanage of the chief representative of the dynasty, but also in the other Russian dukedoms, which were subdivided into a great number of secondary principalities. Open force had very often to decide which of the two systems, that of free election or that of legal succession, was to prevail.

Whatever was the issue of such a struggle the new ruler was only admitted to the exercise of sovereign power after having subscribed a sort of contract by which he took upon himself the obligation of preserving the rights of those over whom he was called to rule. These very curious documents, known under the name of "riad," have unfortunately been preserved in only one of the Russian principalities, that of Novgorod, -- a fact which has induced many scholars to believe that this right of covenanting with the duke was limited to this Northern principality. Professor Sergievitch,the well-known Professor of Legal history in the University of St. Petersburg, was the first to prove by a considerable number of quotations from Russian chronicles, that covenants like that of Novgorod were known all over Russia. More than once mention is made of a prince securing the throne by a compromise with the men of Kiev (s liudmi Kieva outverdisia). These compacts or covenants between prince and people, so far as they are known to us by the few examples among the archives of Novgorod, were a kind of constitutional charter securing to the people the free exercise of their political rights, such as the right of the folkmote to discuss public affairs and to elect the ruler of the State. This latter right had been already guaranteed to Novgorod by a general assembly of Russian dukes held in 1196. We read in the text of the decisions come to by this princely congress; "All the dukes recognise the liberty of Novgorod to choose her ruler wherever she likes." Other constitutional restraints on princely power are -- no declaration of war without "Novgorod's word"; no foreigner to be nominated to the post of provincial governor (volostel); no public official to be dismissed without legal cause, acknowledged to be such by the decision of a Court of law. Thus the principle according to which most English officials hold office "during good behaviour" was already recognised in Russian principalities in the middle of the thirteenth century. This efficient mode of securing the independence and dignity of public officials has been completely abolished in later days under the Tzars and Emperors, although once more in 1863 its necessity was admitted by the legal enactments of Alexander II. Unfortunately no attention is any longer paid to the promises given to this effect by the codes of civil and criminal procedure, and many a judge has been removed in recent times by a simple order of the Minister of Public Justice.

Returning to the constitutional guarantees secured. by the new ruler to his future subjects, I must point out that those already mentioned seem to have been common to all the different principalities of Russia. The same cannot be said of the following two: first, the obligation to judge nobody without the assistance of a special officer, called the posadnik, and secondly, the right of the folkmote to choose this official, a right which first appeared in the beginning of the twelfth century. These exceptions once made, we have the right to say that the compacts entered into by the people of Novgorod with their future ruler, give us a fair idea of the relative strength of the prince and of the popular assembly all over Russia.

Our review of the agreement signed by the prince on his accession to the throne has already reveaLed to us some of the functions of the veche. Questions of war and peace were regularly decided by it. No war could be begun but with the consent of the people, because, in the absence of a regular army, the prince could levy no other force but that of the militia. Treaties of peace and alliance were also signed in the name of the prince and people, as may be seen from the following words used in the treaty of Igor with the Byzantine empire in 945; "This treaty has been concluded by the Grand Duke of Russia, by all the dukes whatsoever and by all the people of the Russian lands." Sometimes, it is true, the duke decided on going to war against the wish of his people, but in such a case he had to rely exclusively on his own military followers, his so-called "drougina," an institution very like the old German "comitatus" (Geleit). As long as the system of land donations remained unknown, and the duke had no other property to distribute among his followers but that taken in time of war, the drougina or comitatus was far from being numerous. Hence the duke was forced to ask the veche for assistance whenever he thought himself obliged to go to war. The veche either agreed to his demand and ordered the levy of military forces, or refused all help; in the latter case the duke had no other alternative but to abandon his project entirely, or to resign his throne. The control in matters of peace and war was maintained by the people so long as the duke had no other troops than the militia. But a kind of regular army had been created by the end of the thirteenth century, owing to the custom of rewarding military service by grants of land. The so-called "pomestnaia" system, which was similar to the Carlovingian system of "benefices," produced in Russia effects similar to those produced in France. The popular militia was superseded by a sort of feudal army, paid not in money but in land. In case of war the duke was not so much interested in having the acquiescence of the people as that of the "men of service," slougilii liudi, who constituted his military force, and corresponded somewhat to the knights in Feudal England. This change, as we shall hereafter see, had a great influence on the future destiny of the Russian folkmote.

Another function of the folkmote, which appears to be peculiar to the Northern principalities, and especially to those of Novgorod and Pscov, is that of legislation. That the legislative functions of the veche were unknown in the Southern principalities of Russia may be seen from the fact, that no mention is made of them in the most ancient code of the country. The Pravda of Jaroslav in its different versions shows no trace of the interference of the people in matters of legislation; it is the exclusive work of the duke and his councillors. The few amendments introduced into this legal code during the first part of the twelfth century have also no other source but the express desire of the dukes and the decisions of their Doumas or Councils.

The exercise of legislative power by the veches of Novgorod and of Pscov, at least during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is illustrated by two judicial charters, those of 1397 and of 1471, which, as is evident from their contents, were drawn up by the popular assembly. The charter of Pscov plainly states in one of its later versions (that of 1467 whenever the posadnik, the supreme judge by the people, has to decide a case to which no existing law applies, he must consult the assembly of the people. The same veche had the right to annul every article of the judicial charter which no longer met with its approval. Mention of this right is made in the charter itself.

As to judicial powers, they remained unknown to. the Western and Southern the veche, at least in principalities of Russia, which knew no other judges than the duke and the officers whom he appointed. I do not allude to those arbitrators to whom private persons frequently had recourse to settle their differences.

But in Novgorod, the fact of the election of the chief judge, the posadnik, by a popular vote, shows that the people were not indifferent to the exercise of judicial power. Appointed as he was by the folkmote, the posadnik could be judged by no other tribunal than the folkmote itself. Cases of high treason were also referred to the popular assembly just as they were in Poland and Bohemia.

What has been stated establishes beyond a doubt the great extent of the rights and privileges belonging to the folkmote in the Northern principalities of Russia. The same cannot be said of some Western principalities, such as those of Volhynia and Galicia. The example of Poland, where the aristocracy was very powerful, induced the boyars of those two countries to make more than one attempt to concentrate in their own hands the chief rights of sovereignty. The large estates which they possessed and the considerable revenues, which the rich black soil of the country yearly secured to them, greatly favoured their oligarchical aspirations. In 1210, they seem to have attained their ends. The dynasty of Rurik had ceased to rule over the country, and a boyar, a member of the local aristocracy, had been raised to the throne. But his rule did not last long. His contemporaries, the other rulers, looked upon his elevation as illegal, and the King of Poland was the first to declare that a boyar had no right to occupy a throne. To oppose the oligarchy of the boyars Duke Daniel, in 1230, convened the popular assembly, the veche and with the help afforded him by people, fought the army of the boyars and reduced them to obedience. This is, however, the only case in which the veche seems to have played any part in the political history of the country. The power of the nobles prevented any further development in that direction, and when the principality passed into the hands of the King of Poland, it was already under the yoke of the aristocracy.

Nevertheless, even under Polish rule, the memory of the old folkmotes was preserved by the country. Documents of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries sometimes mention the existence of the veche as of a local assembly with very considerable executive and judicial rights.

Of all the principalities of Russia those of the North-East seem from the most remote times to have been unfavourable to the growth of popular assemblies. In those of Sousdal and of Riasan, the dukes early freed themselves from the necessity of election by the people by establishing primogeniture as the law of succession to the crown. The way in which the eldest son was admitted to succeed to the throne was by associating him, during his father's lifetime, in the exercise of sovereign powers. Vsevolod III was the first prince who benefited by such a course. He secured the throne to his descendants and thus annulled one of the most important rights of the folkmote, that of choosing the ruler of the land. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that from the middle of the thirteenth century no mention is made of the popular assemblies of Sousdal.

Up to this point we have tried to show that during the Middle Ages Russia was a loose federation of principalities, in which the people were wont to exercise, on a larger or smaller scale, legislative, executive, judicial, and even political power. By political power I mean the right of electing and dismissing the ruler, of declaring war and making peace. The people exercised their right side by side with the prince, the "knias," who gradually increased his own power to the prejudice of the power of the folkmote or veche. At the end of the fifteenth century Novgorod and Pscov alone maintained the primitive relations between the prince and the popular assembly, for they still kept the power of electing and dismissing the chief magistrate of the state, as well as the highest officials, the posadnik, and the "head of thousands." In the south-western part of Russia the popular assembly became, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a local administrative, financial, and judicial body, but it lost all political power. In the northern principalities, and especially in Vladimir and Moscow, the folkmotes totally ceased to exist. The growth first of Vladimir and then of Moscow was followed by the complete annihilation of the political rights of the people, and this seems to have been recognised by the writers of the day. Describing the proceedings by which the republic of Novgorod was subjected by the Tzar, Ivan the Third, the chronicle, known under the name of the Patriarch Nikon, says: "In the year 1478 the Tzar declared to the republic "that he wanted Novgorod to be in the exercise of the same power as that which he possessed at Moscow." The inhabitants agreed to comply with his wishes on certain terms, whereby his autocracy would be limited. The Tzar immediately sent the following reply: "I told you that I wanted in Novgorod a state similar to that of Moscow; and instead of that I hear you teaching me how I ought to organise my state in a way different from what it is at present." On hearing this, the citizens sent another embassy to ask what the Tzar meant by saying that he wanted in Novgorod a government like that of Moscow. He answered: "No popular assembly, veche; no elected magistrate; and the whole state in the power of the Tzar."(2*) This answer left no doubt as to his autocratic intentions and their accomplishment in the Moscovite state.

Let us now inquire into the causes which produced this increase of monarchical power. The first seems to have been the great change which had been brought about in the relations between the prince and the popular assembly by the subjection of the prince to the power of the Khans. It is well known that the Tartars, after having established the centre of their European empire on the shores of the Volga, not far from where it joins the Caspian Sea, in the neighbourhood of the modern city of Astrachan, reduced the different principalities of Russia to the condition of vassal states. Leaving the government in the hands of the dynasty of Rurik they forced the Russian princes to receive investiture at the hands of their khans. In such a state of things the prince had no longer any need to trouble himself about his acceptation by the popular assembly of the principality that he intended to govern In order to secure the throne to himself and his heirs, all that he had to do was to undertake a journey to the southern parts of the Volga and make his appearance at the court of his suzerain -- the Khan. Here he had to lay out large sums of money in presents and bribes, until at last the Khan was induced to grant a charter, "jarlik," acknowledging the right of the claimant to occupy the throne of his ancestors. From the beginning of the fourteenth century the Moscovite princes had no longer. to undertake the journey in person, as the khans had consented to forward the charter of confirmation direct to Moscow on condition that they first received large sums of money from the prince who claimed the throne. The succession was settled at each vacancy by an agreement between the suzerain and the vassal, and the popular assembly had no opportunity of interfering.

Foreign events, especially the rise of the Florentine Union and the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, also largely contributed to the increase of the Moscovite autocracy.

During the period which began with the acceptance of the tenets of the Greek Church by the Russian duke, Vladimir, at the end of the eleventh century, and which ended with the decision of the Byzantine Emperor to subscribe the act of union with the Roman Church, the Russian State as well as the Russian Church remained to a certain extent dependent on the Greek Patriarch and Emperor at Constantinople. In ecclesiastical matters this dependence was manifested in the direct nomination of the Russian Metropolitan by the Byzantine Patriarch, very often not without interference on the part of the Emperor. In secular matters it was rather theoretical than practical. The Russian clergy more than once advised the Grand Duke of Moscovy to recognise the "Tzar of the Greeks" as his lord paramount, and each time they repeated the popular theory that the Byzantine Emperor was the chief of the whole Christian world and therefore the sovereign lord of all Christian kings and potentates. This theory had been first brought forward by Byzantine writers, who actually declared that Constantine the Great had conferred the title of Tabularius on the ruler of Russia as a recompense for his allegiance to the Greek Empire. Up to the end of the fourteenth century the title of "Tzar" was exclusively applied in Russia to the Emperor of Constantinople, and no Russian prince was allowed to dignify himself with it. The Russian clergy, in offering public prayer for the health of the Emperor at Constantinople, spoke of him as of "the Emperor of the Romans and Ruler of the Universe."(3*)

The attitude of Basileus III, Grand Duke of Russia, during the time of the Florentine Union, his bold opposition to the Patriarch Photius and to any compromise with the Romish Church, led the Russian clergy to look upon him and his heirs as the champions of orthodoxy in religion. While the Duke of Moscovy was considered the sole protector of the Greek Church, the Emperor at Constantinople had become, in the eyes of the Russians, a schismatic. It was in order to free Moscovy from all dependence on a schismatic Emperor that the account of the conversion of the Eastern Slavs to Christianity was altered. The apostle St. Andrew, who, according to Armenian and Georgian traditions had been the first to preach the Gospel in the Caucasus, was officially declared to have been the St. John the Baptist of the Russians; Constantinople, being thus deprived of the honour of being the birthplace of Russian Christianity, was accordingly dispossessed of any right to exercise ecclesiastical supremacy over the Russian Church.

The fall of Constantinople, which closely followed the Florentine Union, settled the question of the ecclesiastical autonomy of Russia, and contributed at the same time to strengthen the power of the Moscovite Duke. The Greek Church had lost her secular head in the person of the last Emperor of Constantinople, and the Slavonic principalities of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as the subjugated Greeks, naturally turned their eyes towards the most powerful of the Orthodox rulers. This was the Grand Duke of Moscovy, whose firm allegiance to the ancient creed, and uncompromising attitude towards the Florentine Union, contrasted favourably with the attitude of the last Emperors towards the Popes of Rome. People were led to acknowledge that the fall of Constantinople was a well-deserved punishment on a schismatic ruler, and they were also induced to believe that the conquest of that city by the Turks ought to be the occasion for the transfer of civil supremacy over the Greek Church from Constantinople to Moscovy, from the Emperor to the Grand Duke.

These ideas grew in strength when the last Emperor's sister, Sophia Palaeologus, became by marriage the wife and mother of Moscovite Princes. A report was spread that the imperial title had been transferred to the Grand Duke Ivan by no less a person than his wife's brother, the legal heir of the Byzantine Empire. The Grand Duke was anointed with great solemnity, and received the title of "Tzar," a title which, as we have seen, had hitherto been exclusively given to the Greek Emperors. An offer which the German Emperor made through his special envoy, Herbertstein, to grant the title of "king" to the Moscovite Grand Duke on condition of his recognising his dependence upon the Holy Roman Empire, was solemnly rejected; and in order to confirm the new theory of the complete autonomy of the Russian tzardom, a genealogy was invented, showing the direct descent of the house of Rurik from Augustus and his supposed brother Pruss, the mythical founder of Prussia. One fact, however, stood in the way of a universal recognition of these new pretensions to complete autonomy; that was the continued dependence of the Moscovite rulers on the khans of the Tartars. But this was put an end to by Ivan III, who was consequently the first to adorn himself with the title of "Autocrat" (Samoderjez), which to this day continues to be the title of the Russian Tzars.

As Greek monks, and among them the well-known Maxime, began to settle in Russia, Byzantine ideas about the derivation of monarchical power from God, which were already entertained by some of our monkish writers, were rapidly spread among the people. It is not without good reason that the celebrated antagonist of Ivan the Terrible, Prince Kourbsky, accuses the monks of having been the chief source of the servile theory, according to which "the Tzar, in order to preserve his independence, ought to have no counsellors more intelligent than himself." This theory was accepted with avidity by such tyrants as Ivan the Cruel, who refers to it more than once in his correspondence with the Polish king, Stephen Bathory. The fact that this prince was surrounded by a sort of parliament, the Polish Seim, was declared by the Russian Tzar to be a manifest proof of his political inferiority. "Autocracy (samoderjavsto)," according to Ivan's idea, "was impossible with an elective council; the autocrat must do everything by himself; he has to give orders to his subjects, and these, last must obey like serfs, and that according to the command of God."

These ideas, which had been expressed centuries before by monkish writers, who had found them set forth in Byzantine treatises, were far from being those of the generality of Russian statesmen and thinkers. When Prince Kourbsky advised the tyrant Ivan to seek good and useful counsel, not only among the members of his douma, a sort of curia regis -- but also among the representatives of the people -- vsenarodnich chelovok -- he gave utterance to an old political desire. Another contemporary writer, the unknown author of The Sermon of the Saints of Walaam, gives way to the same feeling in the following terms: "The clergy ought to advise the Tzar to keep a constant general council, composed of persons coming from all the cities and districts of his dominions. Such a council must be kept, and their advice taken day by day on every question which may occur." Two different institutions were meant by those who advised the Czar to rule by the advice of his councillors. One was as old as the monarchy itself, and belonged to those old customs, which, according to contemporary writers, had been scrupulously maintained by former potentates. I refer to the council of the Boyars -- the Douma. The other institution. the history of which will form the principal subject of our next lecture, was, on the contrary, quite recent -- the States-General of Moscovy, the Zemskii Sobor.

I will conclude what I have to say on the political organisation of Russia during that intermediate period which lasted from the fall of the ancient folkmotes to the convocation of the States-General by a description of the first-named council, the Douma.(4*) The study of the internal constitution of the Douma is indispensable for the comprehension of the Part which the higher nobility were called upon to play in the management of the Moscovite State. It will show that the power of the Moscovite princes, absolute as it was, was yet to a certain extent limited by the power of the nobility. Up to the middle of the sixteenth century the Boyars were the only persons admitted to the exercise of executive, military, and judicial authority. Under the name of voevods we find them at the head of provinces, commanding their military forces and managing their administrative interests. As members of the Douma, they had to advise the Tzar on all kinds of political, executive, military, and financial questions. No law was promulgated until after previous deliberation on it by the Douma. The same Douma furnished the chief rulers of the State during the minority of the Tzar, and it was in this way that the power of the Boyars made itself felt among the lower classes of the population, who soon came to look upon them as the chief cause of their misery.

The composition of the Moscovite council was at the beginning very like that which we find in France under the early Capetian kings. The curia regis was chiefly formed from among the high court officials, such as the majordome, the marshal, the constable, the chancellor or cancellarius, the camerer or camerarius, etc. The same may be said of the Moscovite Douma of the fourteenth century, as well as of the privy council of each and every of the principalities into which medieval Russia was divided anterior to the centralising growth of the Moscovite power. The business transacted at the court of a Russian prince being distributed among different departments, the heads of these departments were summoned to sit in the council and received the name of boyars. Money being scarce, the boyars were paid for their services by the donation of crown lands, and this mode of payment being known under the name of "pont," the surname of the boyars was "poutevii boyari." Most of the boyars summoned to sit in the Douma were exempted from military service, and especially from the duty of opposing the enemy at the head of their own retainers, not so much in the open country as in their own castles. Hence the origin of another surname "wedennii boiari" which distinguished the most powerful members of the Russian medieval nobility. If we inquire into the origin of those admitted to the princely council, we shall see that they belonged to the same class as that which furnished officers to the army and the chiefs of the central and provincial administration. This class is precisely that known to the Anglo-Saxons as Thanes, and to the Merovingian kings under the title of Antrustions. The peculiarity of medieval Russia consisted in this, that, being divided into a great number of principalities, it left to the knightly class the liberty of freely choosing the prince whom they would like to follow. The Russian knightly class, corresponding to the "ministeriels" of feudal Germany, the so-called "slougili liudi" or "men of service," were authorised by custom to remain in the service of any prince as long as they pleased, and to change from one prince to another according to their own pleasure. Before attaching himself to any prince the "man of service" signed a sort of contract with the political head of the country in which he intended to settle. On taking service, a charter was delivered to the knight in which his duties and rights were precisely stated, and the prince had no right to infringe these conditions. In case of bad treatment, the knight found no difficulty in leaving the prince whom he was serving and in entering into similar relations with some other of the numerous petty potentates, who ruled over medieval Russia. This right of freely passing from the service of one prince to that of another was clearly recognised by the following sentence in a treaty signed by the prince of Tver with the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Kasimir, as late as the middle of the fifteenth century, 1449; "Our bovars and men of service may freely withdraw from one of us to the other." This document is probably the last recognition of the liberty of removal once enjoyed by the knightly class.

The increasing power of the Grand Duke of Moscovy could not tolerate this survival of federal autonomy. This prince did not object to the liberty of removal as long as it served his own purposes by increasing the number of persons seeking service in the Moscovite army and Moscovite civil service, but as soon as the tyranny of some of the Grand Dukes caused their own knights to withdraw to Poland and Lithuania, severe measures were taken to put a stop to this movement of emigration. The Grand Duke began to confiscate the grants of land ("po mestie") of the departing knights, and every time he could lay hands on one of these seceders he was sure to throw him into prison, very often together with his wife and children. The clergy, always on the side of the secular power, more than once likened the behaviour of a seceding knight to the conduct of Judas, and declared it to be not only treason against the State but also a sin in the eyes of God.

Keeping in mind the facts just mentioned, we shall have no difficulty in explaining the Concourse of knights and men of the sword in the grand duchy of Moscovy. The territorial extension of the duchy had necessitated the abolition of a great number of small principalities, and persons formerly belonging to the ruling dynasties and united by ties of blood to the Tzar, were anxious to enter his service. In this manner the knightly class began to number in its ranks a whole group of princely families who were the descendants of those potentates whose dominions had been conquered and annexed by Moscow. Before long the number of persons desirous of taking service under the Grand Duke totally excluded the possibility of personal and separate conventions, such as those which settled the mutual rights and duties of prince and knight in the other principalities of Russia. These personal agreements were superseded by a general enactment, which declared that the man of service occupied a higher or lower rank in the political hierarchy according, first, to the dignity of the family to which he belonged, and, secondly, to the number of years his family had been engaged in the Moscovite service.

It was generally acknowledged that a princely family -- that is, a family that had once belonged to the number of ruling dynasties, ought to have precedence over all others among untitled nobles. Whoever could show among his ancestors persons in a high official post had the right to refuse any inferior situation, especially in those cases in which a person of a comparatively new family was to be set over him as his superior. This order of precedence was more than once set aside in consequence of the low condition to which this or that wealthy family had been reduced by the loss of its estates. A Russian noble in a miserable state of poverty was as little entitled to occupy a high official position, as was a penniless English duke, or earl, to take his seat in the House of Lords in the fifteenth century, in the reign of Edward IV.

The rules of precedence, constituting what our ancestors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries called "mestnichestro," were scrupulously observed both in the army and in the civil service. They also found expression in the constitution of the Council or Douma. The titled nobility, the princely families, as a rule, occupied the highest rank in the hierarchy of the councillors, the rank of "doumn iboyars," or boyars of the Council.

A certain number of the old Moscovite nobility were allowed to retain their original rank, but the rest of the nobles were by degrees lowered to that of persons whose only distinction was to be "the children of ancient boyars." The documents of the time speak of them in precisely these terms, calling them "boiarski dieti," children of the boyars.

The second rank among the members of the Douma was occupied by those known under the name of "ocolnichii," or persons living immediately about the Duke. This rank in the Douma belonged, as a rule, to members of the old Moscovite nobility, as well as to some of the smaller princely families. The Duke had the right to confer on his "ocolnichy" the higher title of boyar as a recompense for his services. The rest of the knightly class were either entirely unconnected with the Council or were simply summoned to be present at some of its sittings. They were known under the general name of "noblemen belonging to the Douma," "dumnii dvoriani," and formed the third rank of Councillors.

The fourth or lowest rank in the Council was composed of those members of the knightly class who condescended to hold second-rate posts in the different executive bodies of the duchy, such as the Foreign Office ("Posolsky prikaz"), or the board presiding over temporary or life grants of land (Pomesini prikaz). These second-rate bureaucrats, known under the name of secretaries, diaki, were regularly admitted to the sittings of the Council, where they formed the lowest but by no means the least influential order.

From what has been said it will be seen that autocratic power in Russia had to deal with certain counterpoises and moderating influences in the political constitution of the country even after the fall of the ancient folkmotes. These checks and restraints had their roots in the old political rights exercised by the chiefs of the almost independent principalities which constituted the unorganised federacy of Russian states. Whilst submitting to the power of the Moscovite prince, these once independent chiefs insisted on the recognition of their privilege to be next after the Tzar, the principal ruler of the country. The so-called mestnichestvo was, therefore, a sort of unwritten constitution, recognising in each of the members of the higher nobility his distinct right to a place in the machinery of the State. The lover classes alone had no part in the conduct of public affairs. An end was put to this anomalous situation by the convocation of the States-General. The origin of these States-General, or Sobors, and their further development, will form the subject of our next lecture.

1. Herbord, ii. 15-30. Return to the Text

2. "Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles," vi. 213. Return to the Text

3. Compare Diakonov, "The Supreme Power of the Moscovite Tsars," Petersburg, 1889. Return to the Text

4. This subject has been very ably discussed by Professor Kluchovsky. Return to the Text

Lecture III Contents Lecture V
Economic Treatises

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