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"Service State"


The solution to the problem of mobilizing the necessary resources was found in  the creation of a specific service system.  Under this system each stratum of society, or each social estate, had the right to exist only if it performed a certain set of duties and obligations or, to use the contemporary term, service. 

Inspection of serving nobility. Painting by S. Ivanov

The linchpin of the service system was conditional land tenure. It was conditional, because the government granted the land, with peasants living on it, to members of the chief serving class -  the nobility -  on the condition that they perform military or civil service for the State. The main advantage of this system was that  the State could always have substantial military forces at its disposal without spending  any money on their upkeep. The conditional nature of this type of land tenure meant that, in principle, it was not hereditary or even life-long but depended solely on the landowner giving service to the State.  Not only did the landowner have to join the countrys military force himself.  He was also obligated to bring  with him a certain number of his peasants adequately equipped as foot soldiers.

This  system of land tenure (known in Russian as the pomestie system) took shape towards the end of  the fifteenth century when the governments of Ivan III and then Basil III allocated a considerable part of newly conquered lands for the distribution to the serving nobility.  By the mid-sixteenth century pomestie had become the most common type of  land-tenure in Russian central regions.

By  the seventeenth century the pomestie system had evolved into an important administrative and economic institution of the State.  The State did not have a sufficient number of administrators in the localities, therefore it came to rely on the serving class of the pomeshchiks (i.e., pomestie landowners) to help collect taxes, recruit for the army and, finally, perform certain police functions.  In other words, as Russias social organisation developed, the social estates came to perform specific functions and were given certain obligations and rights connected with the execution of those functions.

Thus, to take the noble estate as an example, its chief legal characteristics were the right to own land and peasants on it, as well as the obligation to perform service for the state, first of all, the military service. In the seventeenth and, particularly, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the nobility sought to consolidate its privileged status on the economic basis of the ownership of land and peasants and actively lobbied for the legislative transformation of the conditional land tenure (when manors were given in exchange for state service) into unconditional, hereditary land tenure. The government gradually yielded to the wishes of the service nobility. The decree of 1714 by Peter I conferred hereditary status on the manors of the service nobility. However, the obligation of government service remained in force.

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Pre-Petrine Russia

Origins of Kievan Rus
Emergence of Muscovy
Imperial Expansion
Key Historical Factors
Environment and Climate
Geopolitical Factor
Religious Factor
Social Organization
"Service State"
Consolidation of Serfdom
Vast Powers of the State
Traditional Society
Political Regime


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
Tables and Statistics

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