The Emergence of Modern Russia, 1801-1917

By Sergei Pushkarev; Robert H. McNeal et al. | Go to book overview

2
The Social and Economic Situation before the Great Reform

The Nobility

The most privileged social class in imperial Russia was the dvorianstvo, which monopolized the right to own serfs and possessed many other legal and social prerogatives. Although "nobility" is probably the most convenient translation of "dvorianstvo," members of this legally defined class (soslovie) in most cases did not possess any aristocratic title and should not be considered as "nobility" in the normal English meaning of the term. To be sure, some members of the dvorianstvo did bear such hereditary titles as kniaz' (prince) or graf (count), which had originated in early times or in the reign of Peter the Great, but the great bulk of the Russian nobility consisted of untitled persons, many of whom earned this legal status through the ranks of the civil or military services.

According to the census of 1859, there were about 887,000 members of the nobility in the European Russian population of about 57 million persons, or roughly 1 noble for every 64 persons.*

____________________
*
Population statistics for the Russian Empire are quite rough before the census of 1897, and so vague before 1859 that we shall not attempt to provide data for the earlier years of the century. From the time of Peter the Great until the reforms of the 1860s, most official Russian population statistics enumerate males only, but to give the reader accustomed to think in terms of male and female population a more meaningful impression we shall use approximations of this combined figure. The 1859 figures are approximate at best, and for our purposes the established estimates of male and female population are sufficiently accurate. Although the entire Russian Empire contained about 74 million persons in 1859, the most

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