Russian history 13: Pre-christian life of Slavs

In the times before Christianity, the state did not interfere with the social life public order unless asked by the people. Crime was personal and the punishment was personal, too. A man was protected by his clan or another society, not by the state. People were members of clans, druzhinas, merchants' guilds, etc., and these societies protected their members threatening the offenders with the blood feud. On the other hand, a man exiled from such a society was defenceless. A man without protection of a clan was called "izgoy", "out of life". One church document dated by XII century says:

There are three kinds of izgoys: an illiterate priest's son, a kholop who buys freedom and a merchant who cannot pay his debts. And the fourth izgoy is an orphaned knyaz.

The clan society led to isolation, clans were often at enmity with each other. Hence the tradition of stealing of brides. Later this tradition evolved into paying the brideprice. Polygamy was practiced in almost all Slavic tribes. Legends say that knyaz Vladimir had more than one wife until his conversion to Christianity.

The stratification of the society was primitive. Free people were called "muzhi" ("muzh" in singular) and the slaves were called "chelyad'" ("kholop" for a man or "roba" for a woman in singular). Slaves were treated like cattle: they couldn't have any property, they couldn't witness in a court, they were not responsible for their crimes. Instead, their owner was responsible for what they do, he also could punish them in any way, including death penalty. Free men were protected by their clans and guilds, the only protection for slaves was their master. A freed slave became an izgoy and didn't have any rights.

So, knyaz didn't have the power comparable to that of modern rulers. Citizens were not protected by state, but by autonomous groups. A man not protected by such group, had no protection at all. In families, dominating traditions included polygamy, stealing of brides and brideprice. Slavery was widespread. Personality and human dignity were not valued in the society.

No comments: