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By Honor Bound

By Honor Bound: State and Society in Early Modern Russia OPEN ACCESS

Nancy Shields Kollmann
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    By Honor Bound
    Book Description:

    In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Russians from all ranks of society were bound together by a culture of honor. Here one of the foremost scholars of early modern Russia explores the intricate and highly stylized codes that made up this culture. Nancy Shields Kollmann describes how these codes were manipulated to construct identity and enforce social norms--and also to defend against insults, to pursue vendettas, and to unsettle communities. She offers evidence for a new view of the relationship of state and society in the Russian empire, and her richly comparative approach enhances knowledge of statebuilding in premodern Europe. By presenting Muscovite state and society in the context of medieval and early modern Europe, she exposes similarities that blur long-standing distinctions between Russian and European history.

    Through the prism of honor, Kollmann examines the interaction of the Russian state and its people in regulating social relations and defining an individual's rank. She finds vital information in a collection of transcripts of legal suits brought by elites and peasants alike to avenge insult to honor. The cases make clear the conservative role honor played in society as well as the ability of men and women to employ this body of ideas to address their relations with one another and with the state. Kollmann demonstrates that the grand princes-and later the tsars-tolerated a surprising degree of local autonomy throughout their rapidly expanding realm. Her work marks a stark contrast with traditional Russian historiography, which exaggerates the power of the state and downplays the volition of society.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0696-7
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-30)

    This is a book about how individuals in early modern Russia—primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—defended their personal honor and how the state participated in that process by providing legal norms and access to litigation. Honor in Muscovy was a rhetoric of personal dignity that accrued to all subjects of the tsar, regardless of social rank; only notorious criminals were denied the opportunity to litigate to defend their good name. Honor and its defense in Muscovy present the historian with a remarkably rich field of meaning. Because honor disputes involved insult, they reveal concepts of identity, social...

  2. (pp. 31-64)

    Institutions and laws to defend personal honor appeared first in Muscovite law codes and practice in the midsixteenth century. The timing is no coincidence. The protection of honor in various forms was a response to social tension, and the sixteenth century was a time of intense political and social change. I explore here the social setting in which Muscovite protections of honor emerged on the background of long-standing cultural traditions of honor and then turn to Muscovite definitions of honor in practice.

    As detailed in the Introduction, the sixteenth century was in many respects the classic century of pre-Petrine Russian...

  3. (pp. 65-94)

    Sexual slander and gendered insult were among the most important issues at stake in affronts to honor. A man or woman’s own sexual probity might be assailed, a man’s wife slandered, or a mother oath (maternyi lai) hurled. Women and sexuality were as central in the workings of honor in early modern Russia as they were in sixteenth-century Italy, England, France, the Germanys, and elsewhere. And for good reason. Sexual promiscuity had power greater than crime and cursing to shake the foundations of society—it could break up families, humiliate fathers and husbands, and produce unwanted children. Individuals jealously guarded...

  4. (pp. 95-130)

    Muscovites of all social ranks litigated energetically to defend their honor. The courts served them because it was a traditional responsibility of a good tsar to provide justice. The community played a role in honor disputes, because insult to honor disturbed community stability and because community involvement was integral to the legal process in Muscovy, as it was in many other premodern judicial systems. Thus, the ways in which people litigated over insult are expressions of the broader legal culture. Trials over dishonor can serve as a case study of the Muscovite legal system and as a window into how...

  5. (pp. 131-168)

    In July 1650, the governor and military commander on the southern frontier, Prince Petr Grigor’evich Romodanovskii, assigned a gentryman from Poshekhon’e, Prince Vasilii Sheleshpanskii, to serve as a hundredman (sotennyi golova). Sheleshpanskii refused to accept his orders because the assignment would make him subordinate to Romodanovskii’s deputy, Fedor Glebov. Romodanovskii immediately threw him into prison for insubordination, and from prison Sheleshpanskii in turn petitioned the tsar for redress of the shame of serving below Glebov. The tsar responded promptly. He scolded Romodanovskii for imprisoning Sheleshpanskii: “It is not for you to award yourself compensation for dishonor.” And he ruled in...

  6. (pp. 169-202)

    Muscovite rulers were faced with the same problems of governance that confronted medieval and early modern rulers in Western Europe. They had limited resources in manpower and finances and limited means of communication (even after printing was accepted, literacy was required to make it a tool of governance). Population was widely dispersed and heterogenous in dialect, confession, social status, and privileges. In such circumstances, rulers were hard pressed to integrate their realms, and in fact strove for nowhere near the degree of social and political cohesion that states seek today. To achieve stability through societal acceptance of their rule, premodern...

  7. (pp. 203-232)

    In January 1 682, Tsar Fedor Alekseevich, surrounded by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, boyars, and scores of courtiers, ceremoniously ended the preference given to family heritage and service in the assignment of military rank and office (mestnichestvo). He burned records of precedence disputes and decreed harsh punishment for anyone who dared again to sue a colleague over “place.” At first glance, this desecration of a Muscovite institution that had endured 150 years seems a momentous step, rejecting the centrality of honor in the Muscovite scheme of social values in favor of some new ethos. But that was not the case. It...

  8. (pp. 233-252)

    Social change in the seventeenth century prepared the way for a more complex structuring of government, for the forging of a more explicitly privileged corporate elite, and for the mobilization of social forces for ambitious military and fiscal goals. Most of the reforms undertaken by Peter I (b. 1672, ruled 1682-1725) had their antecedents in Muscovite times: To a great extent, his contribution was to systematize and intensify reform.¹ He systematized, for example, the trend toward ari:stocratization in the elite by creating the terminology and status of nobility with the 1722 Table of Ranks. Moreso than had the abortive 1681...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities