Creating an Elite
This chapter explores the structures of Russian society, arguing that rather than pyramids of social hierarchy, concentric circles of access to and distance from the ruler are an apt analogy of this social regime. The most privileged elites were landed cavalrymen in provincial gentry and boyar ranks; their primary privileges were freedom from taxation and possession of land (owned outright or in conditional land grants—pomest’e) and serfs. The most privileged families filled the ranks at the Kremlin court in Moscow and manipulated kinship and marriage ties to maintain closeness to the ruler. The very highest bureaucrats sat uncomfortably on the edge of boyars, allowed to own land but rarely intermarrying or sharing in their status. The next most privileged groups were servitors not allowed to own land or serfs but generally free from direct taxation: coachmen, musketeers, artillery units, Cossacks, garrison troops. Whether concepts such as “aristocracy” or “nobility” apply to early modern Russia is discussed in conclusion.
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