Russian history 55. Classes. Landlords and peasants

At the same time when the new aristocracy was being formed in Muscovy, other social groups were appearing. In the period of the appanage system, when the north-eastern lands still were being settled by the Slavs, the social structure was yet clearly formed. The settlers coming from Dnieper and lake Ilmen to upper Volga moved incessantly, making their way slowly to the east and north-east. Only knyazes, the owners of the appanages, stayed in their own lands. Since they had to rule and to feed their druzhinas, they needed a permanent population, who would stay in the appanage. The knyazes had to develop the ways to make people stay in their lands. They either hired boyars and free servants by signing a contract with them, or bought serfs (kholops, or lyudi). All of them constituted the knyaz's court, which corresponded to the druzhinas of the Kievan period (see chapter 20). The court assisted the knyaz to run the appanage and to protect it. The boyars and free servants were military leaders and advisors, and the serfs were soldiers and peasants. Sometimes the knyazes invited poor free people to settle on the knyaz's lands in they agreed to work for the knyaz. If these people failed to perform their duties, the knyaz took the land back. These servants constituted a special social group, who were not serfs, but not quite free. Only these groups, from boyars to kholops, were at the knyaz's disposal. Of them, only kholops were non-free. All others could leave the knyaz at any moment. When leaving, they either lost the land, like the middle group of half-free servants, or retained it, like free servants.

All other people living in the knyaz's appanage, were called simply "Christians" (hence the Russian word "krestyánin", the peasant) and were not knyaz's subjects. In the posads (towns) and in villages they organized communities. The peasants' community was called mir. So, if the knyaz knew that some krestyáne peasants live in a certain region of his appanage, say, in a valley of a river, he ordered to count the number of the peasants' houses and obliged them to pay tallage. On a certain day (on Christmas or on St.Peter's day) the pesants had to bring the tallage. People came to this region and left it without the knyaz's permission. The local mir accepted them and let them go, it also defined their part in the mir's tallage. The elected elders gathered the tallage and took it to the knyaz. And so it went on, year after year, till the knyaz noticed that the number of peasants in this region increased or decreased. Then, after the new census the knyaz changed the amount of tallage. The peasants didn't even know their knyaz and the knyaz did not have to worry when some peasants left his lands. The krestyáne had the same freedom also on the boyars' lands. When they came to the new landlord, they signed the contract where their duties and payments were defined. When they wanted to leave, they renounced the land by an established procedure. According to the law and the tradition the usual day for leavin the landlord was the autumn St.Yuri's day (Yuriev day, 26 November). If we say also that the transfer from one social group to another (from peasants to the town's population, or to kholops and back) was easyly available for anyone, we'll understand how weakly defined the society was.

When the appanage system transformed into the state, this weakness had to be replaced by a more clearly defined structure. So, the grand knyazes of Muscovy granted the land to their servants only for as long as they remained the servants (see chapter 54). The same rule applied to all patrimonies: every landowner had to participate in the defense of the country. Every patrimony sent armed people whenever their lord demanded them to. The knyazhata and the boyars who ruled large patrimonies brought whole armies. Smaller landowners came alone or with one or two kholops. Since during the long and bloody wars with the Mongols, Lithuanians and Teutonic and Livonian knights a large and strong army was necessary, the grand knyazes of Muscovy began to hire strong fighters. The knyazes granted them lands as the payment for the service, since there were no other resources.

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