Room 15. Russian Town in the 15th – 17th Centuries. Feudal Relations in Russian State

The room introduces visitors to the social structure of the population, everyday life of peasants and townspeople, and the history of feudal relations in Russia.

The first section (cases 1-4) starts with a series of portraits representing boyars and gentry.

Prince N.I.Odoevsky was a prominent statesman who also excelled in soldiering; he became famous for leading a commission in 1647 that put together Sobornoe Ulozhenie – a Code of Laws of the Russian State.

Stolnik (court raink) G.P.Godunov, the last representative of the Godunovs clan, took high positions at the court of three tsars. His portrait is also notable for the fact that it pertains to a small group of authentic works of Russian portrait painting that appeared in Russia in the seventies of the 17th century.

G.I.Mikulin belonged to gentry. He never served at court, nor did he take any high positions, but his career deserves attention. Under Ivan the Terrible, being a youngster, he served as a squire in the «oprichny» force (special tsar’s bodyguards). Under Boris Godunov he was sent with as envoy to London and proved a skilled diplomat. After his return to Russia he wrote a meticulous report, mentioning there such details as invitation to the staged production of «Twelfth Night» by W.Shakespeare on Christmas holidays. He was personally acquainted with duke Orsini, the main character of this play.

The portrait of G.I.Mikulin was supposedly painted by an unknown British artist in 1600. In the 19th century one of the Russian travellers saw it in a London flee-market and bought it for his collection. Later it passed to the Historical Museum.

case 2
Large and small landowners, boyars and gentry along with monasteries got a firm grip on power in the state. The monopoly right to landownership became the economic basis for their domination. In case 2 one can see «inset things» offered by boyars and noblemen in church. The greater part of exhibits is deeds – charters to boyars and monasteries for lands.

case 3
In case 3 there are pieces showing the standing of peasantry in Muscovy. Scribal and copyist records took account of the entire tax-paying population. During two centuries those books served as the basis for enslaving peasants. There are many petitions from peasants in the case requesting to lighten the heavy burden of corvee. Also exhibited there is a big map of the Balozerskaya Pustyn (hermitage) – patrimonial estates of the Donskoi Monastery. The story perpetuated by the document was quite typical for that time. The monks of the Donskoi Monastery grabbed the lands of black-plough (free) peasants by force. The latter brought an action against the monastery, having drawn a draft and encircled disputable possessions with a heavy brown line. The verdict was brief: «The lands are to remain in possession of the monastery, and peasants are forbidden to enter those estates».

Two law-codes in the centre of the case are of special interest. The first is the Sudebnik (law-code) compiled under Ivan the Terrible. It is an exact copy of the notorious Sudebnik of 1497 including Article 57 that gave rise to serfdom in Russia. In the Law-code of 1649 compiled under Aleksey Mikhailovich serfdom was affirmed by the law. Moreover the prohibition «to be away or to flee» was spread to urban population as well. Attaching workers to a certain place of work and to the employer was the only possible way for the state to provide the feudal economy with labour.

case 4
Case 4 is dedicated to the peasants’ wars and revolts of the 17th century. Two powerful peasant wars swept over the country at the very beginning and end of the rebellious age». Very few things from this time have been preserved – for example, flails and peasants’ battle-axes, typical weapon of rebels. The central place is given to a strip of baste featuring the uprising that flared up in the Solovetsky Monastery during the second peasant war and raged for several years. The composition is centred round the figure of tsar’s voevode Ivan Meshcherinov who organised a long, but unsuccessful siege of the monastery, shelling it «day and night incessantly» from canons. Treachery helped the soldiers sneak into the cloister. Some monks were murdered after horrible tortures; others were drowned in the White Sea.

cases 6-9
The Russian feudal city was, above all, the ruler’s fortress and residence. It wasn’t accidental that the territorial expansion of Moscow was accompanied by the erection of new defensive walls. Sitting on a high spire in the pier between the room’s windows is the «mymra» bird – a weathercock from the Vladimirskaya Tower of the Kitai-Gorod wall raised in Moscow in the 1530s. In the 1680s iron, long-nosed birds over the clusters of fantastical fruit and flowers were installed on rotating rods upon the fortification’s towers. Gilded and coloured weather cocks serve as a city decoration, being a vivid sample of metropolitan craftsmen’s art and skill.

The feudal city was a political, administrative and cultural centre of the neighbourhood, a focus of trade and crafts, which, in their turn, met the needs of the State and the Sovereign Court. Quartered in Moscow were major state establishments such as the Foundry, the Printing Works, the Armoury, the Mint and some others.

In cases 6-9 there are silver and copper coins from Moscow hoards. Scholars describe monetary hoards as «a snapshot of the epoch», since with their help it is possible to determine the intensity of national economy at any particular time period. Case 7 is dedicated to a very simple and easy-to-use standard introduced in Russia in 1534.

100 kopecks made up 1 rouble as they do today. Smaller face values – «poltina» (50 kopecks), «polushka» (1/4 of a kopeck), «altyn» (3 kopecks) – were widely used for minor everyday payments.

There was no need in a coin of the rouble value thanks to a high worth of the silver kopeck. Very soon the Russian currency standard would underlie the monetary systems in other European countries.

case 10
In the middle of the 17th century the government carried out a currency reform that resulted in introducing copper coins into circulation. «The New Palace Place in Romanov Street» was established for the sake of their minting in Moscow, not far from the street «Nikitskaya».

Case 10 exhibits an interesting complex found on the site of this mint. The discovered copper-wire blanks, dies, caulking-irons and other tools enabled to restore the process of coin minting in Russia.

cases 12, 13
The exposition allegedly invites us to enter an urban dwelling divided into male and female halves (cases 12, 13). One can see famous Domostroi (a code of family life) in case 13 written by the closest associate of young Ivan the Terrible, priest Silvester, for his son. According to the author, the home is somewhat akin to the state where each knows his or her place and business; the home head as a master «has authority over the life and death of his bondmen».

case 14
Objects and records in case 14 tell about everyday life of free peasants and serfs. A «lean candle» – a hollow pedestal for the church candlestick – is of special interest. It was ordered as a church offering by M.Leontyev, peasant of Malaya village of the Rakulsk volost (district). This is one of the rare personal things of a peasant preserved to our time.

case 15
In case 15 there are archaeological items from excavations on the territory of Moscow and the Moscow neighbourhood. Here one can see pottery and a churn-staff for whipping butter in one of the pots. Close by is almost a complete set of carpenter tools, leathern footwear, cloth scraps, a bast shoe, such a rare thing as a wheel rim and a lot of other objects enabling to reconstruct a rather full picture of townsfolk everyday life, almost identical in terms of essentials to all other social groups. Time has preserved the things owned by the affluent class of townspeople, because they were made from more durable and expensive materials and better decorated.

case 16
Case 16 represents things of townsfolk bast artisans and merchants. A hoard of silver bullions dated back to the turn of the 14th century is of interest. Several bullions only are displayed, though 61 of them were found, 100 g each. One can see Moscow brands on bullions. Beside is a «money-box» – a container for storing money. This hoard is one of the earliest artifacts from the time of Moscow’s economic rise.

«Dozornaya kniga» of Beloozero (Supervisor’s Book), a cadastre of tax-paying townspeople, mainly craftsmen and merchants, deserves special mention. Their growing number in the 16th and 17th centuries is an evidence of the strengthening economic status of the Russian city.

Towering in the centre of the section there is a «gersa» – the oldest fortress trellis extant to our time. This «gersa» was lifted and dropped in the gates of the passage tower by means of a winch and chains; in this way was the entrance inside the fortress checked. Both the trellis and the winch with chains are authentic. The unique item originates from Novodvinsk fortress on the shores of the White Sea and goes back to the early 18th century.

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