Russian history 20: Political structure of the provinces of the Kiev state

We have seen that the Kievan Rus in the IX century consisted of a number of parts called knyazhestvo or volost'. First, they were ruled by Varangian or Slavic knyazes. Later, these districts submitted to the grand knyazes of Kiev. As long as there was only one knyaz in Kiev, knyazhestva were managed by the deputies of the knyaz, posadniks. These posadniks could be children of the knyazes of Kiev or members of their druzhinas. When the family of the grand princes multiplied and split into branches, knyazes appeared in almost every significant city. Not all of them willingly submitted to the grand knyaz and often they attempted to become independent rulers. By XII century, most of them succeeded and the Kievan state turned into a number of separate lands, named after their capitals. The most important of them were: Kiev, Chernigov and Seversk, Volyn', Galich -- in the southern Russia; Polotsk, Smolensk, Novgorod, Rostov and Suzdal, Murom and Ryazan -- in the northern Russia.

There was one main, or grand, town in each of these lands, and "younger" towns, or prigorods. The lands were ruled by veche, an assembly of free citizens. Veche elected a new military leader, knyaz and signed a "contract" with him. Veche also elected the elders who managed other, non-military affairs. Veche decided whether a war should be started or a peace treaty be signed. When the dynasty of Kievan knyazes subjugated other lands, the area of responsibility of veche became narrower, but in the XII century, with the decline of Kiev, veche took back the power to elect the elders or to start and stop wars. The council of the elders was headed by tysyatsky (head of the thousand), who was also the head of the militia. He was assisted by sotsky (head of a hundred) and desyatsky (head of ten). Veche of larger cities send posadniks to prigorods. Sometimes, e.g. in Novgorod, veche also elected a posadnik for the main city, who did not submit to the knyaz.

Very few documents describing these assemblies survived and we know very little of the laws which defined their activity. Each case was reported to veche either by the elders or by knyaz. The decision was made by shouting. When it was not clear which party was louder, the case was often solved by fighting. Veche usually took place on the major square of a city.

Knyaz was a military leader and received a payment called dan' (tribute) for his service. Together with his druzhina he led the town's militia. In the periods of peace, knyaz was the chief judge in his land. He sometimes called veche and asked for their advice. He also was responsible for the foreign affairs, contacted the neighbor knyazes and foreign rulers.

Druzhina consisted of two groups, the younger and the elder. The elder druzhina included free and noble people, boyars (sing. boyarin) and muzhi (singular muzh). The younger druzhina consisted of non-free and half-free people, gridi and otroki. Some of the members of the elder druzhina participated in the knyaz's council, duma, which sometimes included also the city elders. Boyars served the knyaz voluntarily and they had the right to leave him at any time. So, the knyaz never took any decisions without first consulting the duma. Every boyarin had his own druzhina and was a land-owner. The number of people in the knyaz's druzhina reached sometimes one thousand men.

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