The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

THE COSTS OF MUSCOVITE MILITARY
DEFENSE AND EXPANSION
Richard Hellie

The purpose of this article is to determine, using the available data, Muscovy's total expenses on its military effort, and then calculate how many days' labor (expressed in wages) or how many chetverti of rye it took to meet those expenses. Other calculations can be made once these figures are known, such as what proportion of the gross domestic product was consumed by the military establishment. The result for the 1650s is somewhat surprising, perhaps three times more than previous estimates.

Unquestionably real Muscovite military expenses varied every year between the annexation of Novgorod in the 1470s and Peter's restructuring of the army in the early 1700s, when the territory claimed by Moscow expanded from around 430,000 to around 15,280,000 square kilometers. These variable costs depended on whether Russia was at war or at peace, and whether it was at war on the western front, the southern front, the eastern front (until 1556), or some combination. The costs also depended on what method(s) of warfare were being currently used. Fortifications, artillery, and central administration and their expenses were always present, but the field forces changed over time. Cavalry was the major military arm until the 1550s, when it was joined by the infantry arquebusiers (after the introduction of muskets and musketeers in the seventeenth century). They were supplemented by the new formation regiments for the Smolensk War (1632–34) and then the Thirteen Years' War (1654–67).

Prolonged warfare led to debasement of the currency and inflation, which changed costs—sometimes dramatically, as in 1662–63. The Russian government was aware of this, and tried to correct inflation as soon as it was able. The general result was that, while some prices went up and some others went down over the long run, the general tendency for most of them was to revert to the median.1

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1
Richard Hellie, The Economy and Material Culture of Russia 1600–1725 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), 634–35. The prices and wages used in this article will be the median prices from this book. To save space, no citations will be given. Those interested can find them by consulting the exhaustive index.

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